JUDE BARBACK joins residents, locals, and Metlifecare bosses for the opening of a new walk at Tauranga’s Greenwood Park.
I was delighted to receive an invitation to the official opening of Greenwood Park’s new Quail Trail. The retirement village, located in Welcome Bay, Tauranga, is virtually on my doorstep, but I had yet to pay it a visit. So I RSVP’d immediately.
The weather forecast did not bode well for the event, but when I arrive at the village, manager Todd Jenkins appears optimistic. “It’ll clear,” he says, and sure enough, it does.
I don my gumboots regardless – it isn’t often an interview lets me foray back to my dairy farming childhood – and join Jenkins, Metlifecare chief executive Alan Edwards, Metlifecare Senior New Zealander of the Year Frances Denz, and a huge number of residents and locals for the walk along the bush track around the bottom of the village.
The walk begins with the unveiling of a new sign that outlines the course of the path. The map, beautifully drawn and adorned with native birds and trees, is the work of resident Max Edwards, whom Alan Edwards jokingly refers to as his “claimed relative”. The unveiling is met with smiles and applause.
We then proceed down a flight of steps, where Alan Edwards and the village’s gardener digs a hole to plant a kawaka tree (native cedar) to mark the occasion. More applause. More cheeky banter between residents and Jenkins and Edwards – someone suggesting to Edwards that they need a second gardener. We continue on our way.
In participating in the Quail Trail walk, I not only gain a good understanding of the physical layout and beauty of the village, but also the opportunity to witness the residents’ pride and connection with their village and Metlifecare leadership at play. Although there are more than a hundred people, the feeling is of one large happy family as they gather together.
Along the way, I chat with various residents. One lady tells me to put moving to Greenwood Park “on my bucket list”. Another tells me how, following the loss of her husband, her children had encouraged her to relocate to a retirement village, and she’d moved to an apartment at Greenwood Park “kicking and screaming”, but now she couldn’t imagine a better place to be.
The village is aptly named. It is green, woody, and park-like. I am usually partial to shiny, new, modern facilities. Built in 1986, Greenwood Park is none of these things, but it achieves adjectives that a new build can only aspire to: it is established, timeless, comfortable, proud, and enduring.
“The developers were ahead of their time,” says Jenkins, with reference to the wide, cobbled roadways, the use of brick and cedar and the overall design. The village, comprised of 144 villas, 79 apartments and 15 serviced apartments, sprawls across an impressive 42 acres.
“I should use hectares but it sounds bigger in acres,” quips Jenkins, who has been at the helm for 14 years. When I ask if it is Metlifecare’s largest village in the Bay of Plenty, he responds: “Of course it’s the biggest – I’m a Texan!”
Jenkins has been in New Zealand for 28 years. Prior to managing Greenwood Park, he managed a series of businesses, and prior to that, he navigated ships. He also dabbles in farming.
He’s not joking about the size of the place or about what it has to offer residents. It boasts a restaurant, swimming pool, spa, sauna, tennis court, petanque court, croquet lawn, bowling green, putting green, chapel, and even a carpentry room. I can’t think of anything not on the list.
Except perhaps a care facility. But this is on the cards, apparently.
The Quail Trail walk takes us through beautiful native bush down to an area known as Candyland, and this is land pegged for the development of a care facility at some stage.
I am surprised, perhaps because of the operator’s name, Metlifecare, to learn that of the operator’s 23 villages (25 if you count the two under development), only nine currently have care facilities. Edwards says while there are plans to increase this number, home care services are already being delivered directly to resident’s homes in all but a few villages.
This is a particularly admirable trait of both Greenwood Park and nearby sister village The Avenues Lifestyle Resort. Following a three-year pilot programme from 2001, Greenwood Park negotiated a contract with the Bay of Plenty District Health Board to provide home-based care to residents.
It makes good sense to me. Edwards is a firm advocate of the model, and he would love to see other DHBs contract directly with Metlifecare villages to deliver home-based care services.
“We’re at a transitional period as the rest home level is being squeezed,” says Edwards, of aged care in New Zealand.
He sees the delivery of home-based care to residents by the village operator as a positive solution and admits he is frustrated by the failure of other DHBs to see this as a good opportunity too. Apparently only Taranaki and Lakes DHBs operate similar models.
Edwards says to the residents and guests that he would like to eventually live at Greenwood Park – if the manager will have him. As a key player in the industry with no doubt intimate knowledge of the sector, this is a big call. However, although my visit has been brief, I can certainly see the appeal of this village too.