by Geoffrey Churchman

At the August meeting of the Kapiti Historic Society about 30 members listened to an informative presentation by CEO Wendy Huston of the Kapiti Retirement Trust and the images here were among those shown in the talk. Essentially it is a not-for-profit organisation which exists to provide facilities and care for a significant number of retired Kapiti people. These have a variety of needs from simple living in a retirement community of older folk to hospital level residential care for those with complex health needs.

The trust dates back to 1957 and those who drive along the western half of Kapiti Road will notice the Sevenoaks complex, roughly opposite the airport.  The beginning came with the Marire Home and progressed from there. Marire Home is off McGrath Ave, at the west end of the airport, directly adjacent to where the Trust now has its Muriwai Court site.

A flowery ‘Mission Statement’ became almost obligatory for any enterprise in the 1990s — but that of Kapiti Retirement Trust was deliberately kept short and simple.

The majority of villas in the Sevenoaks Midlands Gardens retirement Village were built over the period 1980s–2000. The Trust’s aged care hospital The Lodge, along with the Sevenoaks apartments were built in the 1980s.

The lakes at Sevenoaks and Midlands Gardens were some of Kapiti’s first lakes within residential subdivisions, developed as ways to sustainably drain low-lying land which were subject to a high water table.

The three sites – Muriwai Court, Sevenoaks and Midlands Gardens — occupy 16 hectares (40 acres).

Wendy’s involvement began when she applied for her role in 2009.  She said her first test of whether it would be an environment she would like was the “sniff test” — close your eyes and see if you like the smell.  Readers who have had reason to visit friends or relatives in a rest home will know that they often have a distinct odour of disinfectant.  Not at Kapiti Retirement’s complex, so that test was passed!

At that time, the official name of the entity was the Kapiti District Trust, which could have meant anything — one of Wendy’s first measures was to have the name changed to the more suitable Kapiti Retirement Trust.  Gross assets now stand at $109 million, of which $81 million is licensees’ interests in the properties they occupy.

Although the trust’s village operates on the same “License to Occupy” model that the other retirement villages in Kapiti use, unlike them, the Trust does not have shareholders who require a dividend.  To a large extent, commercial retirement villages are primarily property development companies and make money on service fees plus hefty deferred management fees on resale, but not Kapiti Retirement Trust.  What surpluses it makes on the village cover losses on the care side of its operation.  And when it comes to capital gains on the units’ value when the occupier leaves it, unlike the other villages which keep it, Kapiti Retirement trust’s policy is to give half the capital gain to the licence holders (or their heirs), which is very generous by industry standards.

As can be seen from the financial results, the Care division typically makes a significant annual loss.  This is added to by the higher than normal staff ratio. While the industry average is 1 staff member to 10 residents, with Kapiti Retirement Trust it is 1 to 6.

In addition to the staff. there is a team of over 90 volunteers – quite a few from the village but also lots from the community (including our co-Editor Roger Childs) and they range in age from school age through to several in their 90s. They work with residents in care and also in the respite day unit The Nikau Club.

The volunteer work was badly hit by Lockdown and the death of resident Paddy McCann made the news back in April. Says Wendy: “Paddy didn’t die of Covid but his family consider (and I share their view) he was a victim of Covid. Paddy was a totally social individual and lived every day to the full.  He became totally immersed in all that happened around the Lodge filling his days by attending and being involved in every possible activity. He was also a devout Catholic and his faith meant so much to him. When we had to stop all activities and all volunteers and families coming in at Level 4 Lockdown (which for aged care was even stricter than out in the community) Paddy’s reason for getting up in the morning disappeared. It was just so sad. The one plus for us was that we ensured he had family which meant everything to him, right through with him until his death even though this wasn’t the norm during this time.”

As can be seen from the visuals, the complex is fairly extensive and provides different forms of accommodation depending on the occupants’ needs or wants.  The minimum age is 70 for a resident, which is below that of some commercial operations.

Trustees are invited by the existing board to fill vacant positions when they become available, but then have to be elected at the next AGM of the Trust. Over the past decade there has always been a resident from the Trust’s retirement village on the Board, but they are there first and foremost because of the skills they bring to the Board. The Trust’s constitution provides for up to three of the seven Trustees being residents in the village.

Wendy sees the operation as taking the best of capitalism and socialism. If the business side of the Trust (its retirement village) does ‘good business’ then it has the financial means to support its charitable purpose — care services for older people.