What Makes an Ideal Retirement Village? Top Manager Answers

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What is an ideal retirement village?

Nikki Dhawan knows how to create an ideal retirement village.

She’s one of those special people with the perfect approach to their job. The 2021 LASA Retirement Village Manager of the Year winner has left her golden touch on five retirement villages run by Bethanie Aged Care, and she’s continuing her great work managing Bethanie Warwick and Joondanna villages.

For Nikki, a retirement village should be a place where residents feel heard and respected and are proud to call home. She’s passionate about making sure residents are connected with the outside community, as well as fostering a strong culture within the villages.

Here’s how she does it.

What inspired you to manage retirement villages?

I worked briefly with seniors in my roles before Bethanie and found that those projects gave me immense happiness and job satisfaction. The life stories they had to share and the love and care they had to give was more fulfilling than what I could find in any other job. I realised how thankful and grateful these people were for what we did for them. I started looking for opportunities in the retirement village space and soon found one at Bethanie.

Nikki Dhawan tells us about creating ideal retirement villages.
Nikki Dhawan is a Village Manager at Bethanie. She tells us how she creates retirement villages people can call home.

“my residents are my extended family and I feel very privileged to be serving them.”

I have been working with Bethanie for close to five years and now my residents are my extended family and I feel very privileged to be serving them. I find my role extremely rewarding. I know I am in this role to serve others, not the other way around.

This is why I commit so much time and energy into fostering warm, welcoming, safe and happy communities at both Bethanie Joondanna and Warwick.

When did you realise it was important to for residents to keep connected to community?

I know that keeping my residents connected to the external community is fundamental to ensuring they can maintain their independence and stay at home for longer.

“For me it is extremely important to find ways and activities to ensure residents are connected to the outside world.”

Not all residents see their family or friends on a daily basis. They feel isolated and lonely at times. I always stop and talk to my residents bearing in mind that they might not see or talk to anyone for days.

Some of them want the social connection and want to be a part of the wider community but find it hard to express. So for me it is extremely important to find ways and activities to ensure they are connected to the outside world.

“We noticed residents’ health decline due to lack of social interaction during lockdowns.”

The situation with COVID -19 last year also reiterated how important it is for our seniors to stay connected to community. We noticed resident’s health decline due to lack of social interaction during lockdowns. We ensured that we regularly checked in with each resident and supported them with whatever they needed.

How do your residents engage with the outside community?

I arrange for external organisations to come into the community and educate, inspire and teach residents things that will support ageing in place (like ICT sessions, banking tips, first aid, and future/estate planning).

These vary from banks presenting different finance options for seniors or using Bethanie’s connections with Warwick Stadium for discounted tickets to events and even bus outings.

“We foster a wide and varying network for residents.”

We recently went and toured the Warwick Stadium and have now started a Chair Yoga group in the village in collaboration with the stadium. We had the first session last week which the residents thoroughly enjoyed!

It is also important for residents to engage with people or groups outside the village – this could be walking groups, friendship or church groups.

In doing this, we foster a wide and varying network for residents. This keeps them busy, their minds active and allows them to be free to enjoy their retirement in any way they choose.

What about creating a sense of community within the villages?

A vibrant village culture and cultivating a harmonious community remains at the heart of every single decision I make as the Village Manager.

“It is their home, not mine, so it’s essential I collaborate with them in every decision made.”

As a Village Manager, I have the privilege of being responsible for people’s homes. But as it is their home, not mine, it is essential I collaborate with them in every decision made that will impact their ability to enjoy their home.

In collaboration with the residents, I have supported and project managed new facilities, fresh new spaces, beautiful gardens and developed a space that my residents can feel proud to call home.

I arrange social events, get togethers (fish and chips, games etc) and clubs that use these new spaces and encourage a more vibrant and safe space for all.  

I also work with residents and external bodies to form resident’s committees which helps channel communication between the residents and us.

How do you help residents feel heard?

The best way to cultivate a safe, comfortable and happy community is to remain open and transparent at all times. Everything I do is in consultation with the residents. Again, it is their home and they should be the decision-making authority.

If I extend these virtues to residents, then they will do the same for me when communicating their needs and requirements, which will lead to much more satisfactory outcomes for all.

“My aim is to have close knit and homely communities where everyone feels involved and engaged.”

I have regular meetings and catch ups with residents. We have a monthly newsletter and calendar through which we communicate news, events and activities. We keep the residents updated on the financials of the village through reports, budget meetings and AGMs.

My aim is to have close knit and homely communities where everyone feels involved and engaged, and a place where residents can support each other to make the most of their life in retirement.

(Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels)

You’ve made significant changes to 5 of Bethanie’s retirement villages. Can you give us an example?

Before working at Bethanie Joondanna and Warwick, I have worked at Bethanie on the Park, Bethanie Illawong and Bethanie Gwelup.

“Every village and each resident has been special for me. I am still in contact with most of them.”

Every village and each resident has been special for me. I am still in contact with most of them or go occasionally to see them. With the evolving times and changing needs of my residents, I have always tried to deliver to their expectations.

Our village in Gwelup is co-located with an aged care facility. Some residents from the village were ordering their meals through the aged care facility but the system was very manual and the residents had to order a month in advance to receive their meals. When I started working in the village, I developed a system where all the residents received seasonal menus. All they had to do was pick up the phone and call the Bethanie centralised number. They could place their order for a day, a week or a month and the meal would be delivered to their doorstep.

This process made it so much easier for the staff and the residents. It was only a matter of implementing and channelling the available technology and resources.

A big thank you to Nikki for her words of wisdom and the work she does creating great retirement villages!

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