Think globally. Act locally.

By Steve Moran

This has got to be one of the coolest senior living community tours I have every done. I can’t say that getting there was more fun than being there but it was pretty cool. I was asked to speak at the British Columbia (BC) Seniors Living Association this past fall and used that trip to cash in on an invitation to visit Origin at Longwood on Vancouver Island in the town of Nanaimo.

At noon I climbed aboard a float plane in Vancouver, BC and 20 minutes later I was picked up by Allison Howard, the VP of Sales, Marketing and Business Development for Origin.

You can read about the Origin approach to senior living here. What follows is based on a conversation over lunch, before the tour. You can listen to the podcast of the that conversation at the end of this article.

Origin Active Lifestyle Communities

Origin is based in Torono, Ontario, and takes a boutique approach to senior living. Their idea is that each marketplace community is unique.  Even the neighborhood where the community sits can be thought of as a micro-community within a larger city. That micro-community then has it’s own unique and special culture and Origin’s goal is to tap into that to become a part of the local surrounding area.

Their approach is to think globally, but act locally. This means it is our job to figure out what people like, what people are used to in whatever market community and micro-community we are located in.

The Nanaimo Culture

In talking with Allison here is what makes Nanaimo and the Longwood community work:

  • Nanaimo has many arts-and-crafts-style buildings community so the Origin building matches that theme. They put a ton of money put into millwork.

  • Nanaimo has a pub called The Rusty Mackerel. Here’s why: Vancouver Island has a lot of immigrants and a lot of those immigrants are British Ex-Pats or have some relationship to the Motherland, the Homeland. So there are many many British influences: Origin’s dining has full table linens, lunch and dinner, even linen napkins. This works for the residents in Nanaimo, but would never work in another community with a different flavor.

Why This Community Over the Competition?

When I talk to senior living leaders I always ask what makes them different. Why should people choose to live in their communities rather than their competitors’ communities . . . what is their secret sauce?

  • “First of all, let me say that our competition in Nanaimo does a fantastic job. We’re a small town and we all know each other and we all know the differences in what we’re offering to community members.”

  • “When we’re touring Origin at Longwood we’re asking people to look at their values. What’s important to them? What resonates with them? Do we meet their values?”  

    “Our values are active lifestyle. We are unabashed about the fact that we want people to come here, to live on purpose, to have purpose, to stay connected to community, to stay connected to their bodies and keeping them healthy, keeping their brains healthy and going.”  

Active Living

I then asked Allison to describe what an active lifestyle looks like to them. My challenge to her was that what many communities offer is this idea that once you move-in, you will never have to lift a finger. Her response: “No, no, we want our community members to lift a finger.”  More . . .

  • “So a perfect example. I was touring some architects this morning and it’s the first time they were designing senior housing — well, it’s not their first time. But the first Origin-based senior housing community, which we call an active living community. And they were coming to see, in play, what it is that makes us different.  

    “So we’re touring down in the basement, we’re looking at the mechanical room and the garbage room and I say, ‘Now come around the corner here.’ We went around the corner and there was our woodworking shop. It’s 10:00 in the morning and Jim is down there making a toy train to sell in our craft fair that we’re going to have in December.

    “The general public is invited into the community for the craft fair and all of the proceeds go to support seniors who may be in difficult positions. They might be shut-in, they might be impoverished, they just might be isolated in some way and we create these funds to give to them.” 

  • Another example: “When we were touring this morning we saw the beautiful salt water pool. There were three people in the pool with big beach balls and hula hoops and they’re doing upper body strength activities — all self directed.

Connecting and Motivating Residents

It is not the goal of any community to have residents disengaged from the daily life of the their local area or from other residents and yet it happens a lot. It is a tough problem because residents have the right to choose how to live their lives and whether or not to participate in activities. It is wrong to coerce or force, and yet it is the obligation of the community to figure out how to inspire residents to continue living.   I asked Alison how they accomplish this:

“We really want people to have a smooth experience and to be able to acclimatize. And, like us, like every other community, we say there’s a period of time, it’s a period of adjustment but we go out of our way to make sure that we’re introducing that person to other residents. We already know who we think we’re going to partner them with before they get here.

“So, let’s say Bob moves in on a Wednesday, we’ve done his interest index, we know his background and we’re not doing it to be good salespeople, we’re doing it because we want to change Bob’s life. We want to make a difference. We want to make his life better. He’s come to us for a reason, he’s looking for something, where can we meet his needs?

“So if we know that Bob comes from England and enjoys fishing, we’ve got Stan who used to run a pub in England, we’ve got Joe over here who goes down to Longway and fishes once a week and we’re going to introduce them.

“When they come in, we’re going to sit them at the table with Bob and Joe or Stan and Joe, and we’re going to say: ‘This is Stan, do you know he used to run a pub? I bet he’s got a story or two he can tell you. This is Joe. He likes to fish.’ Then we walk away, right? And, if that doesn’t work, then we look for other opportunities.”

It was a great visit to a great successful community that is doing remarkable things for the staff. The conversation was way too long to cover everything in this article, but you can listen to the entire conversation here: