What's in a name? Clarity for retirement community living.


A box-fresh new term makes clearer the offer & opportunity of the UK later living sector.

With the UK’s imminent ageing population boom front of mind, a while back we explored the very British problems around ‘later living’; the cultural blockers holding it back (see negative stereotypes and notions attached to downsizing); the process and policy (see issues around availability and awareness), stopping the sector from fulfilling its potential.

It became clear that the perception, planning and provision of later living is in need of a big  transformation.

One of the first obstacles to overcome was deemed to stem from the ambiguous image and lack of definition around the sector and the offerings and opportunities it provides. Terms currently influencing public perception include ‘sheltered housing’, ‘assisted living’, ‘close care’, ‘independent living’ and ‘retirement villages’, to name but a few.

The retirement community sector offers a wide range of innovative solutions that address the housing, care and support needs of our ageing population. The absence of a clear definition makes it difficult for policymakers to come up with sector specific recommendations, while consumers struggle to locate retirement communities in the wider social care and housing landscape.

The representative body for the UK’s housing-with-care sector for older people, ARCO, found that 1.8 million older people want to move to a retirement community, but just 78,000 homes are currently available. It also found that while 70% of older people supported expanding the provision of the retirement community model, only 21% are confident they understand the terms used to describe them.

Since these conversations have been had, ARCO has begun to set out and clearly define the different offerings of retirement housing, retirement communities, and care homes.

ARCO is now rolling out an overarching name, developed in conversation with residents, to describe the sector’s work and provide consistent shared wording that, going forward, we’ll be adopting too.

In April 2021, ARCO commissioned significant independent research into retirement living terminology, focused on the views, aspirations and wishes of 600 older people across the South, Midlands and North of England, representing a wide variety of living circumstances and demographics. It found that the term ‘integrated retirement community’ had the clearest consumer appeal and scored more highly for likeability than other alternative terms such as ‘high service retirement community’, ‘retirement community’, ‘retirement care community’, ‘senior living community’ and ‘later living community’.

Introducing: integrated retirement communities

Previously known as everything from ‘extra care’, ‘retirement villages’ and ‘housing with care’ to ‘assisted living’ and ‘independent living’, these are are now typically defined as 60-250 self-contained apartment homes for sale, rent or shared ownership with a range of options to suit a variety of pockets. Staff are on site 24 hours a day to support wellbeing and independence, and optional care or domiciliary services are available, as well as a whole spectrum of integrated lifestyle facilities, optional activities and social opportunities. We’re talking gardens, restaurants and bars, cinemas, social and exercise programmes, hairdressers, hobby rooms, lounges and libraries, gyms, swimming pools and wheelchair aerobics; community halls, greenhouse and craft room facilities, book clubs, choirs, painting, woodwork, photography, grand prix trips, concerts and family gatherings.

The word ‘integrated’ is key to the new definition. Residents live independently in their own home as part of a wider community, with lifestyle, wellbeing and personal and domestic healthcare services on tap to support their daily needs and desires, whether small or significant. Residents have their own front door for privacy and peace of mind and are free to link up with family and friends, or engage in intergenerational activities, work, volunteering or leisure opportunities; their community connections valued and cherished.

Click here for more about the definition and to compare the old terms with the new.