I was fortunate to visit Whiteley Village at Walton on Thames last week which accommodates some 350 residents who live independently in their own homes along with an extra care development of 50 units and nursing facilities for 114. The only criteria for entry is that you need to be, to quote the founder and philanthropist William Whiteley, an “aged poor person”.
Retirement Villages is a pioneer in this sector for private customers, but for older people of limited means Whiteley Village founded in 1907 was a real pioneer and contrasts to other similar developments paid for by other philanthropists such as those at Port Sunlight (Lever Brothers) and at York (Rowntree) in that it was not tied to any particular trade, manufacturer or location but welcomes people form all over the country and from all backgrounds.
What struck me was the wonderful freedom enjoyed by the founders to enable them to translate their courage and vision into reality. Planning restrictions and regulations inflicted on us today seem designed to deter innovation and excellence. It is doubtful that William Whiteley would today be allowed to take 200 acres of pristine natural woodland and build a village of such low density and brilliant design.
Instead planning restrictions and regulations would reduce scale and cost effectiveness leading to a loss of services and facilities, whilst high density requirements would adversely affect design and privacy to create a mediocrity of aspiration matching the abominable no-men who create the regulations we have imposed upon us.
Retirement Villages along with other developers does its very best to produce developments of high quality and excellent design with a scale than enables a range of facilities to be provided, but this is achieved at huge financial cost through the planning process and against an endless maze of difficulties. How very fortunate are the residents of Whiteley Village. They may be of limited means but through the vision and generosity of their founders facilitated by a lack of regulation in 1907, they can today enjoy a wonderful environment and diverse social life with full support.
Chairman, Retirement Villages Ltd