Wendy Huston’s Column

1a sevenoaksKapiti’s best-kept secret — a community retirement village with a charitable purpose

By Wendy Huston

As we all know, Kapiti Road is a main link through the Paraparaumu community.  For the majority of the years over the last three decades that I have lived in Kapiti, only occasionally did I notice the large ‘Sevenoaks’ sign opposite the beach end of the airport. 

I knew it was something to do with ‘old people’ but that was the extent of my knowledge.  This changed dramatically with my appointment to the role of CEO of the Kapiti Retirement Trust almost five years ago.

In getting to know an entirely new sector, ‘aged care’, after spending my working life in education, I continue to be astonished as to just how far-sighted the group of local residents were, who first conceived the idea of forming a charitable Trust to look after the aged within our community. 

Back in the 1950s Kapiti was largely a weekend beach destination for Wellingtonians but the ribbon settlements along the Coast were growing. In 1958, a group of locals identified the need for elderly Kapiti residents to have available a care facility when they were no longer able to live independently.

In true Kiwi style, they formed a committee, started fundraising and established and incorporated what was then, the Kapiti District Trust Board. This was an appropriate name for the times as the Kapiti District was then part of the Hutt Valley County Council.    

Once formed, members of the Trust Board fund-raised to eventually buy land (at a cost of approximately $7,160) and then raised the funds to build Kapiti’s first purpose-designed resthome – Marire (which translated, meaning peace, tranquillity and happiness) Home. 

With changed Ministry of Health regulations, Marire eventually closed in the late 1980s.  However, by this time the Trust had gone on to develop independent retirement living sites at Muriwai Court, Sevenoaks and Midlands Gardens and extended its charitable purpose. 

What an amazing community asset we now have and yet for many locals, it remains a hidden gem.

As a registered not-for-profit, charitable Trust, the constitution of the Kapiti Retirement Trust spells out its prime purpose as being: “to provide for the social welfare, care and comfort of aged people of the district in any manner whatsoever”.

Open to all

Membership of the Trust is open to all and it has no political, welfare, sporting, social or religious affiliations.  It is truly ‘of the community and for the community’.  

Most importantly, the model the Kapiti Retirement Trust offers is a sustainable one.  The operating of a very successful retirement village, with 249 independent living villas and apartments spread over three sites, make up the Sevenoaks-Midlands Gardens Retirement Village. 

The village generates operating profits which are used to support the Trust’s charitable purpose.  This compares with the current darlings of the stock exchange, the commercial retirement villages which of course need to provide a return to their shareholders. 

This enduring income stream is critical to the Trust being able to carry out effectively its charitable purpose.  It is a wonderful model – a profitable business with a humanitarian objective.

The Trust’s aged care services are centred in The Lodge, the Trust’s 59-bed continuing care hospital at Sevenoaks which also includes a secure dementia unit, Kauri House. 

Additionally, the Trust also provides both block respite in its Matai Wing and day respite at the Nikau Club to those still living out in the community but who have a progressive, often age-related, illness. 

The Trust’s aims

The Mission Statement of the Trust is simple.  That is, that services offered by the Trust will:

Preserve Dignity                     Promote Independence                      Provide Choice

The success of the Trust in no small part has been through the quality of its successive Boards of Trustees. 

Throughout its long history the Kapiti Retirement Trust has been fortunate to attract extremely talented and dedicated Trustees. 

They have all volunteered their skills and expertise at no cost, to further the development of the Trust. Past Trustees include well-known local identities such as; Gordon Sweetman, C R Spackman, EJB Matthews, Ben New,  Barry Hadfield, Bill Brazier, Bess Honore, Alan Milne, Graeme Strand and Murray Jensen. 

The current Chair is John Aburn with other Trustees being:  Norrey Simmons, Wilson Lattey, Peter Kennedy, Gil Warren, Steven Tomlinson and John Irwin. 

The Board appoints a CEO who has responsibility for employing a workforce of around 120 staff.  This makes the Trust one of the largest employers in Kapiti. 

Along with dedicated Trustees, the organisation has always been able to attract and retain loyal and committed staff who support the ethos of the Trust and ensure implementation of the Trust’s Mission Statement.

Staff plus volunteers = quality care 

Staff  are supported in their work by over 60 community volunteers and together provide quality care to residents in the Lodge. 

Their work is acknowledged by residents and their families.  For example, over the past four years the Trust has achieved an overall rating of more than 98% in its annual residents/family satisfaction survey. 

With a balance sheet showing total assets of more than $83 million, the complexities of this now substantial business, has an important role to play in the ongoing development of what makes ‘good business’ in Kapiti and specifically, the continued growth of the aged care sector locally.

Despite the views of some that Kapiti should not focus on this retirement sector, it is and will continue to be significant in the developing face of Kapiti.

While the retirement sector is now a major part of  Kapiti’s business and social profile, the place of the Kapiti Retirement Trust as the oldest and most enduring part of it is something I am extremely proud of.

The Kapiti Retirement Trust is proof that quality care for the elderly can and does happen.  All it takes is the commitment and action of good people and a sustainable financial structure to support it.

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A great piece Wendy. Sevenoaks-Midlands Gardens Retirement Village and its CEO are widely respected in the Kapiti Community. As you emphasize, the services you provide are based on providing the best care for the varied needs of residents and there are no shareholders baying for big returns on their investment. I have a brother at Malvina Major (MM), part of the Ryman group. As readers will know, MM was splashed all over the papers last year when a rest home resident was left in soiled bedding more than once. This was one of many issues: a couple of years ago, a miscalculation on medication put my brother into Wellington Hospital for over three weeks. Since last year’s fiasco, Ryman have improved their act at MM and now have someone on the reception desk at night, have a registered nurse on duty at night, have raised carers’ wages, employed a permanent driver for outings, made improvements to meals and hired a new management team. There is now also greater communication with the relatives of residents and medical files are more accessible. The obvious question is: would they have made these changes if there hadn’t been the adverse publicity? Ryman now have their new Waikanae retirement village up and running, and readers will be familiar with the extensive full colour advertising promoting this and other villages. The money would be better spent on improving the wages of the carers who are the front line workers for the company. Sevenoaks-Midlands Gardens clearly does its advertising by example and word of mouth.