Who said life can’t begin at 50?

Trans-50 is a not-for-profit organisation based in South Africa that is redefining what retirement living is all about.

The organisation’s roots go back to the 1970s when trade unions decided to provide retirement complexes for people who used to work on South Africa’s railways. The first retirement development, Witfield Park, opened up in Boksburg in October 1971 and since then retirement villages have been developed in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Cape Town and Kimberley.

Trans-50 now manages five separate retirement villages across five provinces, which are currently occupied by approximately 1,350 residents and 250 staff members.

Although each property comes with its list of perks, the unique aspect to Trans-50’s offering is its lifestyle program. The organisation lives and breathes a philosophy inspired by Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl and his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and has integrated that concept into most of its undertakings.

“We find that many of the residents, when they retire, lose their sense of meaning,” explains John Wilkinson, chief executive officer of Trans-50. “They usually affiliate their worth with what they used to do. Instead of saying what they are now, they only express who they used to be and what they used to do before retirement.”

Wilkinson says the organisation helps its residents find a new sense of purpose through various ways, like encouraging them to volunteer within their retirement communities and take on roles in their villages; especially as many of them come with years of experience and expertise in certain professions. For example, people who were good bookkeepers will help to bring up the budget, or those who were engineers are asked to look at the maintenance. Trans-50 even has a resident who used to be a matron of a hospital and is now helping to oversee some of the medical care.

“We want them to add value to their life and we want to make a difference, so we give them a reason to get up in the morning and give them something to do,” says Wilkinson. “We give them a sense of something that they are now.”

The Villages

Across all five provinces, each village is built within a secured premise with guards on patrol guaranteeing the utmost safety. The properties are built with a combination of cottages and villas that are sold to retirees on a life-rights basis. However, flats and studio apartments are occasionally also available for rental and those who need special assistance are accommodated with extreme care as well.

Other than Jakarinda Park in Pretoria, each village also comes with frail care services, as well as options for meal and laundry services, and ongoing maintenance to keep the exterior of the homes and gardens in beautiful condition all-year-round.

Witfield Park in Boksburg was the first village to be built and is Trans-50’s longest established senior living community. This one is conveniently situated with easy access to two of South Africa’s most impressive shopping centres, Eastgate and East Rand Mall, and is also close to Emperor’s Palace and O.R. Tambo International Airport.

Jakaranda Park in Pretoria was the second retirement village established by Trans-50 and is described as “dignified and tranquil” set in lush gardens within a highly sought-after residential area in a suburb of Pretoria. This property is unique from the others as it is specifically designed for “the active and independent over 50s” so it does not have a frail care or clinic facility on site.

Acacia Park in Kimberley is set up in the up-market Hadison Park area and boasts a warm climate with expansive gardens and a dedicated area of natural veld, appealing to the nature lover.

Panorama Palms in Cape Town is ideally located so residents can conveniently visit the beach, take a short trip to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, shop at either the magnificent Tygervalley or Canal Walk shopping centre or simply relax. As with most Trans-50 facilities, Panorama Palms offers the full range of accommodation and care services, structured towards the evolving needs of an older population.

And finally, Fichardt Park in Bloemfontein is a well-established community filled with rose gardens and stately water fountains. It’s within walking distance to a major shopping centre and is close to one of Africa’s finest medical facilities. Fichardt Park is also renowned for its work with its Alzheimer’s patients.

Wilkinson says the retirement accommodation industry has changed tremendously over the years, where previously homes were subsidised by the government, which also meant any management would have to follow their biddings. However today, residents in Trans-50’s communities are personally managing themselves, from ensuring their finances aren’t being squandered, to appointing their own staff within the villages. “Resident participation has increased dramatically,” he says.

Furthermore, medical care in the facilities has taken on a more proactive approach over the years as well.

“People who have been bed ridden before, are helped to overcome social and psychological issues that would lead them to be bedridden. We help them out of bed, into wheel chairs and into common areas where they can socialize and be involved,” explains Wilkinson. “We don’t just take care of them medically, but also psychologically and socially. They react now, because they are not isolated anymore. This has really added to the value of people’s lives.”

Future Outlook

Trans-50 is currently working on offering consultation to two different retirement villages in South Africa, advising with tasks like assembling the management team or managing care facilities.

As a responsible South African organisation, Trans-50 is also playing its part to address the legacy of the past by offering consulting and advisement to retirement villages “who are battling to cope with expenses and costs,” particularly in the black communities.

Looking to the future, Wilkinson says there aren’t any immediate plans to build out a whole new retirement village.  However, the organisation is currently in the process of adding a block of 24, one and two bedroom flats at Panorama Palms in Cape Town with breathtaking views of Table Mountain. The organisation is also working to modernise and expand the rest of its properties and facilities across the country. Not a bad idea considering the immense popularity of these villages means most of them currently have a waiting list.

One particular area the company is not only hoping to upgrade, but specialise in, is its dementia and Alzheimer’s units, showing yet another example of Trans-50’s dedication to providing the best in world-class experience for South Africa’s retirees.

“We have a more holistic approach,” says Wilkinson. “People want to know they are still making a difference. We are focused on assisting people to find meaning in their lives and feel like they have something to do when they wake up in the morning. That really is the edge we have. We want to give you a worthwhile time of your life.”