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Good planning in 1912 shows how we can add five years to life

Retirement / iStock

Heather Kerswell reflects on the legacy of Whiteley Village in Surrey, and considers how it can inspire the development of a new generation of retirement villages

‘Shangri-la in Surrey, where living to 100 is easy’ was the headline on 19 February’s Sunday Times article on Whiteley Village, near Walton-on Thames. Research by Cass Business School had shown that residents moving to Whiteley Village, even though from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, receive a substantial longevity boost. 

Women can expect to live as long as the wealthiest in the land, and men as long as the norm.Whiteley Village has a disproportionate number of centenarians. and aims to be “the best place to age in Britain”.

Whiteley Village was created from money left in 1907 by William Whiteley (of Whiteley Stores, Bayswater). The 91-hectare site, chosen to be a “bright, cheerful and healthy spot” was bought in 1911. Architect Frank Atkinson designed a spacious layout to a very legible plan, influenced by Howard’s Garden City, of hexagons, circles and radial paths towards a central statue of Enterprise. 

“Whiteley should inspire the planning of a new generation of retirement villages”

The plan showed cottages for 300 people and community buildings – a village hall, two churches and an infirmary, placed to create vistas along the axes. To avoid an institutional appearance, seven of the day’s top architects, such as Sir Ernest George, Ernest Newton and Aston Webb, each designed a section. The quality of their buildings is such that they are all now listed. 

Can good planning really help people to live longer? For Chandra McGowan, CEO of the Whiteley Homes Trust, the key is that residents are active in their community. They are independent, care for each other and run a huge range of activities. 

The overall design is a critical factor in this sense of well-being as it helps residents to feel good about their home and village, and because its deliberate connectivity encourages activity.

Whiteley’s £1 million legacy enabled the Whiteley Homes Trust to buy an excellent site and maintain buildings and spaces. These are now major assets that underpin plans for expansion.

Whiteley Village should inspire the planning of a new generation of retirement villages, particularly for people of limited means. 

New trusts could raise capital by appeal, and design beautiful places with top-quality dwellings and facilities that allow residents to be active through the many years of older age we can expect. 

Whiteley is expanding, with more cottages, spacious flats, more home support for residents and a new care centre for those needing temporary intensive care – all paid for by an explicitly commercial scheme for self-funding residents. It will be fascinating to see how the diverse community evolves over the next century.

Heather Kerswell is the founder of HK Associates and former chief executive of Mole Valley District Council


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