Retirement village provider Audley Group and BlackRock Real Assets have embarked on a £500m joint venture into the retirement living sector in the UK, which could bring high streets the much-needed footfall for post-pandemic revival.
The joint venture, confirmed yesterday, will fund the development of at least three retirement communities, which will be ready for residents by next summer.
The first village in Watford will create 255 mid-market retirement living properties, meanwhile, the firm will build communities in Surrey, the South Coast, and Northern Home Counties.
“Dedicated housing for older people in urban locations not only meets an identified social need but could be a shot in the arm for high streets,” property policy advisor at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Dominic Curran, told City A.M.
“Many over 65s move with substantial housing equity in their pockets, which will generate spend and offer a welcome boost to footfall for local shops.”
And with demand for office space falling, there is no shortage of need for new homes, Audley Group CEO, Nick Sanderson, told City A.M., as “city centre living will transform the high streets of our towns and cities as the country rebuilds from the pandemic.”
“The view that city centre living is the preserve of the young is outdated and many older people too want bars, restaurants, cafes, museums and galleries moments from their doorstep.
“This has a dual benefit. As well as reshaping how cities look and feel, it will bring a much-needed bounce to local economies. People with money to spend and time to spend it.”
The Watford village, just 1.4 miles south of Watford Junction railway station, has a shuttle service to and from the area’s high street and town centre, BlackRock’s portfolio manager, Thomas Mueller, said.
“Where we make residential investments we look to support the development of local amenities, including high streets, through a thoughtful approach to infrastructure.”
Investment into the retirement living sector has been picking up pace in recent years, due to the potential for long-term revenue streams – as well as the positive social impacts.
Retirement villages have also been gaining popularity points in the affluent older generation after a year of isolation, which would aid quieter high streets looking for some fiscal attention.
There are a reported 160,000 households of over 65s added each year with only 7,000 specialist retirement units being built, which suggests the retirement space supply issue and dwindling high street footfall could have the same solution.
“An ageing population coupled with a pandemic has made people question their living choices and means they are rightly demanding access to active communities, greater security and a place where they can thrive in rude health within their own homes for as long as possible,” Sanderson said in a statement regarding the joint venture yesterday.
A record 11,120 chain store outlets closed between January and June last year, while just 5,119 opened.
“While the figures are a step in the right direction after many months of retail closure, demand remains fragile. Footfall is still down by 40 per cent on the pre-pandemic period, and there are still 530,000 people who work in retail still on furlough,” chief executive of the BRC, Helen Dickinson, said last week.
After a record number of shop closures during the worst recession in history, a retirement village has been built between Balham and Clapham high streets in south London, with local planners hoping that by bringing more people into town centres, these homes will help bring new life into the UK’s high streets.
After a little too much breathing space, high streets have an opportunity to be reimagined and are being redesigned with a focus on community.
Like the capital’s famed Oxford Street, where a former BHS store has become a Swingers golf centre and food hall after the pandemic pushed everyone indoors.
Sanderson added: “Now is an opportunity for town and cities to make plans for a successful future and the importance of retirement living properties shouldn’t be overlooked.”