What went wrong in Britain’s swankiest retirement village

“These integrated retirement communities [IRCs] fill the gap between the family home and the nursing home,” says Tom Scaife, head of seniors housing at Knight Frank. “I visit so many 80-year-olds who live in one room of their London townhouse because they can’t walk up the stairs. We are failing a generation if we do not provide another option before it is too late.”

Scaife says Battersea Place, opened in 2016, was London’s first luxury senior apartments. They sold for £1 million each and the site is now full with a waiting list. “Since then, and in a relatively short space of time, many IRCs have sprung up across London and the Home Counties. ARCO, the body representing the IRC sector in Britain, says it wants to see a senior living community in every area.”

Nick Sanderson is the founder and CEO of Audley Group, whose first London project – Nightingale Place in Clapham – opened in 2020. It looks more like a private members club than a retirement village. Two-thirds of the apartments, priced from £750,000, have now been sold. Sanderson says the typical buyer is selling a 4-5-6 bedroom family home to move there and enjoy hydrotherapy, opera performances, a gym and cinema on site.

“When I founded Audley in the 1990s, the customer attitude was very different from today’s 77-year-old (the average age at which someone joins a retirement community),” he says. “This generation grew up in the 1960s, they’ve traveled the world, they’re college educated, they’re part of the technological revolution and they live great lifestyles. They are fit and active and they are not willing to accept the misery of growing older.”

Sanderson, who recently served on the Government’s Older People’s Housing Taskforce, says Heythrop College is a “frustrating site”. Surprisingly, considering it would have been a direct competitor to Audley, he says it’s a shame it won’t go ahead. “We are better served if there are more high-quality retirement villages,” he says. “People still have the idea of ​​a miserable nursing home in their heads and doubt whether a place like us can exist. So the more people see it, the more they will believe it.”

Although upscale retirement homes are on the rise here, Britain still lags behind the US, New Zealand and Australia, where the industry is treated as a thriving part of the hospitality sector. In Britain, 0.6 percent of over-65s live in later-life communities, compared to six percent in the US.

What went wrong at Heythrop College? It took 15 months for Zenoprop to arrange planning permission due to concerns over the amount of affordable homes on the plot, and in August 2023 developers asked the local government for permission to defer its commitment to build five affordable homes on the plot, citing inflation claimed. had made the project a “financial burden.” Ultimately, they were forced to sell at the end of 2023. It’s just the latest twist for a site that has already had an interesting history. Previously owned by French nuns, the Victorian building was for decades a convent school known as the Maria Assumpta Centre. In 1993, the Jesuit training school Heythrop College (which had been based at Heythrop Hall in Oxfordshire since 1926) moved in, offering ecclesiastical qualifications as well as degrees from the departments of philosophy, theology and social sciences of the University of London.

But in 2018, the Jesuits closed the college due to recruitment problems, rising costs and “changes in government funding.” It was the first major British institution of higher education to close completely since the dissolution of the original University of Northampton in 1265. The university’s library of 150,000 volumes – considered one of the best collections of theology and philosophy in the country – was moved to the Senate House. . So what’s next for the empty Heythrop College? Most likely a luxury hotel. Arora, who now owns the site, specializes in airport hotels, such as the Sofitel at Heathrow and Gatwick. So perhaps the site can still take off, even if plans for an ambitious retirement village are currently underway.

KPF and Arora declined to comment; Zenoprop or Auriens did not respond to requests for comment

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