Property Australia

Secrets to raising the bar on retirement living

PROPERTY AUSTRALIA November 12, 2019

What does it take to raise the bar on residents’ experiences in retirement living? We checked in with three award winners heading off to the National Retirement Living Summit to find out more.

A day in the life of a retirement village manager can change direction at a moment’s notice.

Just ask RetireAustralia’s Julie Ramage, whose daily duties require an extraordinary diversity of talents and skills.

131119 - Story 1 - Julie Ramage“We coordinated an urgent plumbing maintenance issue, compiled the minutes from our annual management meeting and onboarded a new staff member,” Ramage says.

“We met with the residents committee, administered first aid to a resident during an emergency, addressed the village finances, dealt with technical issues with our entry gates, and assisted a resident recently diagnosed with an illness to access home care services. I planned out the next week and dealt with all the other day-to-day bits and pieces.”

It’s a heroic job, and the Programmed Award for Village Manager of the Year has celebrated that heroism for 17 years.

Ramage, who is in the running for the coveted prize at the National Retirement Living Awards on Thursday 21 November, is the manager of RetireAustralia’s Forresters Beach Retirement Village on the New South Wales Central Coast.

Overseeing 420 residents in 260 independent living units, Ramage has won applause for a range of innovative approaches that have enhanced the life of retirement village residents and highlighted exceptional service. Chief among them is an active cultural and recreational program for residents which culminates in an annual arts show.


A passion for people is indispensible

“I have been working in this sector for 11 years and I am still learning every day.

“You really have to be multi-skilled, calm, organised and driven,” Ramage says, adding that a passion for people is indispensable.

“Learn to find the best in people. Show empathy and know everyone’s name. When we can see the best in our residents and staff, we can tap into the things they love and understand what makes them tick. Have the patience and understanding to find out what residents really want – and embrace it.”

131119 - Story 1 - Janet FisherLendlease’s Janet Fisher agrees. Whether she’s rolling out solar-powered street lighting, forging new community connections with the Men’s Shed or creating a pet-friendly environment, Fisher says the success of any project depends on buy-in from residents.

“Know your residents. Understand who they are, what they bring to the village and respect their individuality. And listen well,” Fisher advises.131119 - Story 1 - Lexington Gardens opening - EI-1

Crowned the national Programmed Village Manager of the Year in 2016, Fisher joined the retirement living industry in 2007, and is currently senior village manager at Lendlease’s Lexington Gardens Retirement Village in Victoria.

What is Fisher’s top tip for raising the bar?

“My biggest piece of advice to any other village manager is to ensure the ideas that you introduce are owned by residents – not by yourself – or they are more likely to fail”.


Building a culture of inclusion and community

Ross Dunning is Victoria’s finalist for the 2019 Programmed Award for Village Manager of the Year and has been the senior manager of the Arcadia Group’s Rylands of Hawthorn retirement community since 2017. He looks after 100 residents in 84 apartments at Rylands of Hawthorn, while also overseeing Arcadia's sister village Rylands of Kew.

131119 - Story 1 - Ross Dunning-1Dunning started his career in the retirement living sector in 2013 following stints in the hospitality and wine industries. Dunning has applied this training to improve residents’ enjoyment of their retirement living experience at Rylands, including special events delivered in conjunction with the residents’ social committee. A continuous improvement program that he developed with key staff members has been adopted by the entire Arcadia Group.

Dunning says his biggest lessons since joining the industry has been to “develop a culture of inclusion and community and being ever cognisant our work is their home”.

“The experience at Rylands has shown me that there is a wide variety of needs among our residents. Some like to be very involved, others not so much. I keep looking for new ideas, initiatives and improvements that involve as many residents as possible and that our service offering is innovative and appealing,” Dunning explains.

Dunning emphasises the importance of attending events outside of hours. “I don’t believe the role of a village manager is a nine to five job,” he says.131119 - Story 1 - Rylands of Hawthorn - FI-1

The job of village manage requires such a wide range of skills, Dunning adds, ticking off a long list which includes budgeting and financial management, building maintenance, customer service, IT, human resources, sales, legal, compliance and catering.

“If I have to identify one skill, it’s the so-called soft skills or ‘people skills’ because you have to deal with a variety of personalities among the resident body and then there are the corporate and employee relationships. It requires a great deal of patience and flexibility.”


Consistent best practice and exemplary customer service

It is for these reasons that Andy Dale, general manager of Programmed Property Services in NSW, says his company has long supported the Programmed Award for Village Manager of the Year. The award “recognises the efforts a village manager puts into the smooth running of the village” – efforts which Dale acknowledges often require substantial personal investment.

131119 - Story 1 - Andy DaleProgrammed’s team has watched the retirement living sector evolve over the 17 years it has sponsored the award, and Dale notes the “cornerstone” of quality care over that time has been the “diverse, energetic and forward-thinking cohort” of village managers.

“At Programmed, we understand that it takes great people to produce great work. The recognition of an individual’s – or team’s – excellence in any workplace is fundamental to consistent best practice and exemplary customer service. And that’s why we are proud to support an award that recognises the contributions that village managers make every day to improve the lives and wellbeing of residents and colleagues.”

Julie Ramage, Janet Fisher and Ross Dunning will all be speaking in a panel session at the National Retirement Living Summit on the Gold Coast from 20-22 November. The National Retirement Living Awards will be held on Thursday 21 November. Tickets to both the Summit and Awards are available online.

The Property Council’s Village Management Industry Diploma develops diverse skillsets in customer service, budget management, compliance, human resources, to help them effectively manage their village communities.