Retire in Legoland

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Retire in Legoland.

I've long had a love affair with retirement villages. They have been great investments, and countless residents have glowingly endorsed the village lifestyle over the years.

Before my first visit to a retirement village, I had preconceived ideas about what 'an old person's home' was going to be like. I knew the village was brand new so the architecture and facilities would be modern. I knew the facilities catered to the needs of residents, with a swimming pool, bowling green, restaurant and lounge bar suggestive of a holiday resort.

I nevertheless expected the facilities would be as much for show (or for visitors) as anything, and that much of a resident's life would revolve around their units or townhouses, which even in the flash villages, were tiny compared to the homes the residents would likely have moved from.

It was only when I arrived and talked with the residents that I realised my preconceptions were off the mark.

It was nothing like an 'old person's home' and the residents' lifestyle — if they chose — was far more holiday resort than lonely life in a tiny room. Admittedly I arrived at happy hour, so residents were playing board games, chatting and catching up with friends with a drink.

It turns out the pool was regularly used, the restaurant hosted events with speakers and presentations covering all manner of subjects, and the bar was always busy at happy hour.

Apparently the ability to watch the construction activity outside was a real treat — the men liked watching the big machinery and the women enjoyed watching the builders and tradesmen in action! The residents told me how meeting up with other residents and observing and feeling part of the wider world was one of the highlights of living in this particular village.

When I recently read about a retirement village makeover in Canada, I initially dismissed it as an "only in America" tale but then thought about my experiences in New Zealand and wondered if it could be a future trend here.

Residents at St Elizabeth village at Hamilton Mountain in Ontario are set to live in a retirement village designed by a theme park company.

Forrec, the creator of Legoland, Universal Studios Florida and Canada's Wonderland, recently agreed to redesign the St Elizabeth village at a cost of $US800 million.

The 114-acre site, currently home to around 900 residents, is going to be transformed into a pastoral mill town, complete with a spinning water wheel, old-time windmill and a population of 3,000.

In speaking to the residents, Forrec president Tony DiFruscio found a desire for a village to be as far away from a 'retirement community' as possible. "The residents don't think of themselves as getting older. They are looking for places that have a buzz of activities".

The Ontario village will follow in the footsteps of other 'luxurious themed resorts' the company has built in Mexico, Singapore and Thailand.

It's easy to dismiss a themed retirement village as gimmicky — a Mickey Mouse concierge anyone? But actually it is not unreasonable that the wave of people around the world looking to retire in a village community might want more than just a collection of buildings and facilities.

I reckon the Forrec mantra of designing "resorts that inspire, excite and differentiate" resonates as well with older people as it does with the young.


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