Our housing schemes are places where people of retirement age live independently in community with other Christians. We spoke to Vicki Miller about why Royd Court, Mirfield, is a brilliant place to move in later life
What’s special about living in a Christian community like Royd Court?
So many things! Retirement brings change and can bring challenge too. People find they miss the routines of work and can experience loneliness. Joining a housing scheme like Royd Court brings new opportunities to serve and grow in your Christian faith. Everyone has a valuable role to play in the life on the community. As I always say, “Until the Lord calls you home, He’s not finished with you.”
What does spiritual life look like at the scheme?
Our regular devotions are times when the community comes together. There’s a short Bible talk, prayers, singing and time to chat over a cup of tea or coffee. Those living with us are invited to take an active role, so if you’re willing and able, you’d be welcome to give the talk, lead prayers or provide musical accompaniment on the piano. Even a simple job like making the teas and coffees can be a great service to others. If you just want to come along and listen – that’s fine too, and is a valuable way of taking part in spiritual life.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve had to pause our regular devotions times. But we’ve just been able to start our outdoor weekly sing-along times which has been a big encouragement to everyone. And we’re very much looking forward to a time when our devotions can start again.
What other opportunities are there for fellowship?
An encouraging chat in the communal garden, inviting someone round for a coffee, going for a walk into town. These are some of the ways in which people who live here grow in fellowship simply by ‘doing life’ together. We also have lots of interest groups, organised by those living here. For example, there are groups for knitting, arts and crafts and gardening, plus a choir. So if you have a particular skill to share or fancy trying something new, there are plenty of opportunities. We also have a Friendship Café where you are welcome to drop in for a chat. Because of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to do all our social activities as usual. As with devotions, we’re hoping to be able to start things again soon.
How much say do residents have in the running of the community?
We have a Friends of Royd Court group, designed to be 2/3 residents to 1/3 supporters, who help organise the life of the scheme. We also ask residents to send in ideas to the office via our occupants meeting. We want residents to have as big a say in the running of the community as possible. In fact, it’s the ideas that come from residents that have the biggest impact on the life of our community. To give one example, when Royd Court was built our gardens had a simple landscape. We have lots of keen gardeners living with us who asked for areas where they could plant different kinds of plants and flowers. We worked with our grounds team to create this.
One gentleman felt particularly inspired and asked if we could create a Bible Garden featuring all the plants and flowers mentioned in the Bible. We thought this was a brilliant idea and he worked with our team to plan it out and plant it. He even created a guide to go with it, featuring all the Bible verses where the plants are mentioned. The Bible Garden is now a much-enjoyed space for the whole community, and a real talking point. That’s the attitude we have at Royd Court – if you have an idea for something, share it.
What are opportunities are there to be involved in the local Christian community?
We encourage everyone who lives with us to be part of a local church and we can advise you on churches in the area. Through links with churches, we’re able to connect with the wider community.
For example, we’ve had members of church congregations, including the youth group, come in to take services for us on a Sunday. Through these links, we’ve seen friendships develop across the generations.
Why are you dedicated to working at Royd Court?
I don’t have a background in care or working with older people. I used to work at British Gas. I feel like it’s something the Lord decided I should do! When I think back to my own childhood, I can see how valuable I found building links with older people through church. I have adoptive grandmas and grandpas all over the shop! There was one lady in particular who I formed a special bond with. She was called Mrs Rowley – to this day, I don’t know her first name. She always wore a hat. She was a gorgeous lady, after the service at church she always used to stroke my hand and ask me all about what I’d been up to at school. She gave me a shell with the Lord’s Prayer written on it and I still have it. There was another dear lady called Mrs Brown and I used to go round her house and play churches with her. We used to stand up and sing, and then sit back down again and say things like, “Is it your turn to do prayers?”
Looking back, I’m sure being around these godly older people was a huge encouragement to me in my own walk with the Lord. Seeing how Royd Court is a place where these kinds of links can grow is one of the things that excites me most.
What are the biggest challenge you face at as a housing scheme?
I genuinely feel that people leave it too late to start thinking about moving here. Time and again people join us and I say, “I wish I’d done this ten years ago.” There are many reasons I’d advise people to start thinking about it sooner rather than later. Royd Court isn’t a place where you come when you can no longer cope at home, it’s a place you choose to live as part of a Christian community. It’s better for it to be a choice for you to come and live here, rather than coming in a rush and at a crisis point. There’s a real misunderstanding about what a housing scheme actually is – people think ‘it’s a nursing home, I’m not ready for a nursing home’. We are definitely not that!
What other opportunities are there to be involved with the wider community?
At Royd Court, we see ourselves as one big family and that includes staff. Those living with us enjoy getting to know our staff members and their families. Our Christmas party is one of the highlights of the year. There’s one of our residents, Roy, who always saves a seat for Ethan, a carer’s son. He says, “I’m saving a seat for my friend Ethan.” It’s adorable.
We’ve also developed links with a local school – the same school, in fact, where one of our residents used to teach – and they come in once a year to do an Easter play. We’ve had school choirs come to sing for us, too. Many of the people who live with us were former teachers and love being around children.
We’ve also seen relationships with the community developing organically. For example, we have two ladies living in a flat that overlooks the road. A couple of students from the local school started to wave to the residents, and they waved back. It’s grown so now a dozen children from the school are all waving to the ladies each day! And if one of our residents has grandchildren coming to visit, other of our residents will stop and talk to them, too.
I’ve seen how much making these links between the generations benefits everyone. My own daughters have loved coming to visit and getting to know the people who live here. Aged five my youngest daughter, now a teenager, knew exactly whose door to knock on to get sweets! She’s built a bond with those living here and I can see her developing her own ministry in caring for others.