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People test drive cars, go to a wine tasting or try on clothes before buying, so when it came to settling at a lifestyle village, being a Village Manager was a very good introduction for three couples who now live at Fairview Village in Albany, Auckland.

We went to meet them to ask one simple question – after managing Lifestyle Villages why did you decide to move into one? But first, here’s some background.

One of the three couples is John and Mary Gardner were the first managers of Fairview between 2000 and 2007, and took on a dual role at a time when Managers lived on site, which they said “was a huge advantage as it meant we could really get to know our residents who were also our neighbours.  And being a couple meant we could empathise with everyone moving in.”

Barrie Flint and his wife Jan had been joint village managers on the Gold and Sunshine Coast, before returning to New Zealand and helped advise on the development of Fairview, working very closely with John and Mary, while also continuing as joint village managers in other locations around the country.

“The experience in Australia showed us how lifestyle villages could really be created to be the best home and community for people in their older years. When we moved back in 1992, lifestyle villages were still a relatively new concept with only around five or six in the Greater Auckland area,” Barrie said.

For Gary and Althea Harris, their involvement wasn’t exactly planned, with Gary having worked with the National Bank in Christchurch and then moving the family up to Auckland when he was relocated.

“Around 1998, I was doing a course with the bank and every day we had to ask a question at the start as a warm up.  On my drive to work, I went past Parklane Retirement Village and I had no idea what it was, so I asked the group ‘what is a retirement village?’ – and no-one knew.

“The course convener suggested I go and ask, so I arranged a meeting with Graham Collins, who became one of New Zealand’s lifestyle village pioneers and I ended up being offered a job and never looked back.”

All six became associated with villages at a time when the concept was fairly young in New Zealand but with them all having backgrounds in people focused jobs it was a relatively easy career change. Their backgrounds include: telecommunications, banking and finance, the New Zealand Defence Force, legal and health secretarial, retail, catering and nursing.

“It was a fantastic introduction because it revealed the good things about it and also the disadvantages,” said Gary.  “I began to understand the huge benefits villages have for people when they are older – yes there are downsides but that’s the same wherever you live.  It became clear to me over time the plus points far outweigh the negative.”

Terry Middlemost, CEO of Premier Lifestyle Village Group, the operator of Fairview and Settlers Village about 2kms away, says it’s a huge endorsement to have all three couples choosing to live at Fairview after working as Village Managers.

“All our resident former managers have had the benefit of seeing how villages work and it has probably made their decision to move in easier.  We feel we have created a really good balance and it’s fantastic they have chosen to live in the place that’s the same or similar to where they used to work.  It’s also great to have their knowledge and experience although I try not to tap into it too much.”

Michelle Wainhouse, Sales and Marketing Manager, jokes she should be booking her Villa now.

”Before people move in, one of the concerns they have is moving away from a place that’s often been home for many years and into a village environment.

“However, what we offer is a suburb type setting, with substantial stand-alone houses and gardens, that’s very similar to any other community.  There’s no high-rise or big apartment buildings. It’s been created over many years so that the move from a family home to here doesn’t mean that much of a change.  Our motto is, just like home with a whole lot more, and it really is the case.

“Knowing all three couples, they understand this and have chosen to be here,” she says.

Benefits and the transition into a Lifestyle Village

Despite having inside knowledge about what lifestyle village living is like Gary said there were some things he had never thought about before about getting older.

“Things just get harder,” he says. “Changing a lightbulb, gardening, even getting to doctor’s appointments can be difficult.  When you live in a village, you have the support of the managers, nurses, and neighbours, making day to day life much easier.”

Mary pointed out that Village life is very much like an extended family where people really do know their neighbours, unlike in a typical suburb.  John added there’s is just less stress when living in a Village and less to worry about so you can get on with living life, being with friends and family, and enjoying yourself.

“We don’t feel older here because everyone is a similar age and we do have a lot of fun – we can even be a bit silly at times and we have a lot of laughs,” said John as he showed off the backstage costume area in the Village theatre where he puts on shows.

The six are good friends and spend time with each other, made more so by John and Jan being brother and sister.

Advice for people thinking about a lifestyle village life

Our meeting was full of stories and memories but the biggest piece of advice from everyone was don’t leave it too late.

They all said the earlier you move in the better as it means you can really take advantage of all the amenities and social activity – it really is a family where it’s possible to be as young as you feel and do the things you really enjoy.

At the end of our chat, Althea told a story about a couple who were dancing together cheek-to-cheek at the recent Christmas Party after which, the husband said, “if someone had told me last year I would be living here and enjoying myself, I would have said they were joking.”

John added that once the decision is made to move in, people arrive and relax.

“It’s a weight off their shoulders and who knows they may even live a bit longer,” says John.

After being associated with Lifestyle Village Management for so long, you could say John and Mary, Barrie and Jan, and Gary and Althea are all role models for why life is good, living in a lifestyle village.

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