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Belfast’s independent living hub for retirees: ‘There’s a great deal of companionship’

Independent-living facility Harberton Hall has all the home comforts and much more, its residents reveal

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Andrew and Kathleen Galway, who live at Harberton Hall in Belfast

Andrew and Kathleen Galway, who live at Harberton Hall in Belfast

Andrew and Kathleen Galway, who live at Harberton Hall in Belfast

It is how most people dream of retiring: living life to the full while someone else takes care of the cooking, cleaning and laundry.

Luxury living for retirees has been created on a level not seen here before with the opening in Belfast of Harberton Hall.

Owned by non-for-profit provider Abbeyfield Belfast, it has been specially designed to address the issue of loneliness and isolation among older people.

A company with a proud 60-year history, Abbeyfield Belfast has four houses for supported living in east and south Belfast.

Making new friends, dining together every night and then closing the door of your apartment when quiet time is needed is all part of the Harberton Hall experience.

The modern facility, which has 32 apartments, offers a weekly cleaning service, which includes fresh bed linen as well as taking care of your laundry.

This hotel-like experience continues in the impressive communal facilities, where a restaurant caters for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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The first residents who have already created a new friendship group have established a routine of enjoying an aperitif before sitting down to dine together in the evenings.

There is also a hair salon, reading gallery, arts and crafts space, exercise studio, lounge and landscaped gardens with a huge south-facing sun terrace.

The idea is to encourage older people to retain their independence with the freedom to come and go as they please, while also offering support if needed.

This approach means that the ‘chores’ are taken care of and residents can use their time and energy to do what they love in their retirement years.

Since the facility opened just a few months ago, residents have already created a vibrant and inclusive community.

Through group classes and activities, a community has been established with new friends organising social events, daily walks and even Sunday movie matinees.

These new friendships mean the world to those who had previously been living on their own.

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Andrew and Kathleen Galway and Eddie Stone, who live at Harberton Hall

Andrew and Kathleen Galway and Eddie Stone, who live at Harberton Hall

Andrew and Kathleen Galway and Eddie Stone, who live at Harberton Hall

Niki Molloy, chief executive of Abbeyfield Belfast, described Harberton Hall as “a new model of living designed to encourage community and independence, giving older people more choice about how they want to live”.

She explains: “Harberton Hall, like our other four ‘houses’, has been inspired by the Abbeyfield ethos of making time for older people.

“Our new facility is the direct result of the feedback from residents, families and friends, which has enabled us to deliver this purpose-built ideal-living environment where older people can thrive in a supportive and engaging atmosphere.

“Loneliness and isolation are very common problems for older people living in their own home,” Niki explains.

She adds: “We believe that older people looking for an alternative to living alone should have choice, something that gives them the best of both worlds — privacy, support and company when they need it.

“Harberton Hall provides this with fully equipped luxury apartments where residents can entertain or relax, enjoy the company of their peers in the communal areas and over their evening meal in the restaurant, knowing that the everyday chores are all taken care of.

“We believe this kind of facility will pave the way forward for supported independent living for older people.”

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Abbeyfield Belfast CEO Niki Molloy

Abbeyfield Belfast CEO Niki Molloy

Abbeyfield Belfast CEO Niki Molloy

Of course, enjoying such a high standard of living doesn’t come cheap.

The service, which includes 24-hour security and care for those who need it, costs from £637 a week for a one-bedroom apartment to £976 for a first-floor two-bed.

For many of the retirees who have sold family homes to live a simpler and more fulfilling life, it is money well spent.

Retired engineer Eddie Stone (89) has been a widower for 13 years and has lived alone since his wife, Helen, passed away.

He sold the spacious semi in Belfast which the couple called home for 50 years in 2017 and moved into a two-bedroom apartment.

When he first heard about Harberton Hall and the services on offer he didn’t hesitate to move.

He says: “I just happened to see the advertisement and what appealed to me was all the services. Getting my flat cleaned weekly and my laundry done and even having my meals provided — sure, what more could you want?”

Eddie is a fit and active 89-year-old who is a member of a local camera club and a keen gardener, activities which he is able to enjoy at Harberton.

He has made new friends and has developed a new routine of meeting them each night for a pre-dinner drink and chat.

He says: “The company is lovely and we are all around the same age, which really helps.

“We have a great chef from Dundee and if you don’t like something on the menu, he will happily make whatever you want, although the menus are usually good and the food great.

“We meet an hour before dinner for a drink and a chat, and often after dinner we will sit together for another hour.

“There are lots of activities during the week, such as keep-fit classes and IT classes, to help bring us up to date on computers.

“A group of us also go out for a walk twice a week.”

Since moving in to Harberton Hall four months ago Eddie has been delighted to indulge his love for gardening by helping to produce summer flower troughs and herb planters for the kitchen to use.

He has also used his love for photography to entertain some of his new friends with slideshows.

He adds: “I’ve always kept myself busy and had outside interests but feel very thankful that I found this place, as I am very happy here.

“Having no family, my wife and I accumulated some savings over the years and with no one to leave it to, I decided to put it to good use.”

Kathleen (87) and Andrew (89) Galway have lived in Belfast most of their married life.

They too have no children and were interested in the concept of Harberton Hall right back at the planning stage and booked a two-bedroom apartment.

Also an active couple, they already had a busy life as members of the National Trust.

But while they have often been out and about during the day, in the evening they now thoroughly enjoy the companionship of their new friends and neighbours at Harberton Hall, especially in the restaurant over dinner.

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Independent living at Harberton Hall in Belfast

Independent living at Harberton Hall in Belfast

Independent living at Harberton Hall in Belfast

Andrew is a retired Queen’s University Belfast lecturer and Kathleen taught in Fleming Fulton special needs school.

It was the need for extra support that attracted the couple to Harberton Hall.

Kathleen explains: “We were living in a large apartment that was too big for us and now that we are quite elderly, we have got to the stage when we really need extra help and still keep our independence.

“We don’t have children and not much in the way of family support, so Harberton Hall has been perfect for us. We have a carer who comes in to help us once a day and all our housework and laundry are done for us — and that gives us a bit more independence.”

The couple found that living in an apartment block was quite isolating, especially during the pandemic.

They have enjoyed adding to their circle of friends in their new home, especially during the evenings.

Kathleen explains: “It is lovely to just be able to go downstairs and meet someone and maybe have a cup of coffee with them and a chat.

“There is a great deal of companionship and it has made life very pleasant for us.

“We like to go and do walks ourselves, but in the evenings we enjoy the company and we have laughed a lot at night over dinner.”

The staff and service has made the biggest impression on Kathleen.

She adds: “The staff is absolutely superb. They are kindness itself and make you feel very much part of a family group.

“It is a lovely atmosphere and they go out of their way to make you feel happy and to be helpful. I couldn’t speak highly enough of them.”

Harberton Hall still has 11 apartments available. For further information contact Niki Molly on 028 9621 3601 or email niki@abbeyfieldbelfast.org.uk


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