The heartbeat of any retirement village is provided by the people who live there – the residents. It is they who create the social fabric that brings people together to live happy and fulfilling lives in retirement.
While Retirement Villages’ management and support staff are on hand to ensure that village life runs smoothly – the interests of residents are championed by the Residents Committee. Each of our villages has active and vibrant associations that help to shape village life. And each of those associations is led by a chairman.
At Elmbridge Village in Cranleigh, Surrey, the residents’ association chairman is Denise de Fraine. In this interview, Denise, who moved to the village in 2003, explains why she has become so involved and why the association is so important.
With a new phase of development almost complete at Elmbridge, resident input has been invaluable throughout the process – indeed residents via a liaison group have had their say on the interior design scheme of the new clubhouse.
Denise has been chairman for six years.
How did you become chairman of Elmbridge Village Residents Committee?
After moving to Elmbridge, I felt that any active village community needs a contribution from newcomers to keep it going. I have also been brought up to be self-reliant and not expect everything to be done for me.
I was welcomed with two drinks parties within the first few weeks and asked if I played bridge or wanted an allotment. Neither of these interested me. However, I was later asked if I would take over from the current court representative in my area of the village (i.e. ‘court’). At Elmbridge Village court representatives form part of the Residents Committee and are responsible for raising relevant issues – so I agreed since I felt I had relevant experience.
The following year I was thrown in at the deep end, knowing almost nothing about how things worked and even less about Retirement Villages. The next two years proved enthralling, especially as for the second year I also took on the duties of secretary. Then the Resident Committee’s chairman retired and I took over. Now, six years later, here I still am.
You mention your experience, could you tell us about this?
Throughout my professional life I have held many positions that involved working with committees or occasionally having to act as chairman. These include running an Indoor Equestrian Centre in Liphook, where we staged show jumping, cross country and dressage events.
I was also Livestock Secretary at the regional South of England Agricultural Society in Ardingly and put in charge of all horse, cattle, sheep, pig and goat elements of the various shows staged throughout the year. I retired after 13 years and, working from home on a part time basis, organised the one-day Heathfield Show for the next five years.
During those 20 odd years I met a great variety of people, titled, aristocratic or otherwise, all of who were involved in this extraordinary world of shows. I even had the privilege of meeting the Queen four times and many other members of the Royal family. Perhaps this was all pre-ordained in preparation for Elmbridge and all it’s challenges!
What qualities are required to be chairman of a Residents Committee?
Approachability, tolerance and patience! Knowing the background and detail of how the whole village functions (this comes with time) and getting along with people.
Tell us about some of the positive initiatives you have helped spearhead as chairman of the Residents Committee?
We have developed a good relationship with a local Japanese boarding school, with students visiting for concerts and table tennis tournaments. We also arrange language sessions to help them improve their English and are invited to their open days.
The past two years have involved a partnership with the National Citizenship Service (NCS), where we work with groups of youngsters on different projects.
How does the Residents Committee support you?
I could not do this job without the backing of the Residents Committee. It provides an overview of all the activities, discusses new ideas and their feasibility, and assists or helps people if needed.
The reps also bring forward any queries or concerns on behalf of residents for the committee to decide on a solution or how best to take the matter forward. This usually means me liaising with the village manager or Retirement Villages head office. The village manager attends our meetings to pass on anything within his jurisdiction.
As chairman of both the Residents Committee and ‘The Forum’, a group we created to liaise on matters relating to the construction of Elmbridge Manor, I have got to know Retirement Villages’ personnel well and work closely with the village manager.
Do you enjoy your work at Elmbridge Village?
I really enjoy being `involved’ as this is how I have been all my life. I feel I have made a positive contribution – I hope others feel the same. Perhaps it is a culmination of the knowledge and experience I have gained over the years. Why sit back and waste all of that? There’s a sense of satisfaction too and I have made good friends and met many interesting people, both within Elmbridge and the Retirement Villages Group generally.