Estates manager pulls community together in tough times
Rhona Hill has been at the helm of McCarthy Stone’s The Dairy Retirement Living community in Tunbridge Wells since February 2018 – when the team was preparing to welcome the first residents to the development. As Estates Manager, Rhona is responsible for the smooth day-to-day running of The Dairy and she is the first port of call for the new community of retirees who have made the development their home.
When Covid-19 arrived in the UK last year and the country went into lockdown, life took an unexpected turn for Rhona and for everyone at The Dairy. Here, Rhona explains what a day in the life of an Estates Manager involves, and how her role has meant pulling the community together during a global pandemic and finding ways of easing the situation for all.
Rhona comments, “The Dairy is a friendly community of people over 70 who live independently in their own apartments – whether privately owned or rented. In my role as an Estates Manager, no two days are ever really the same, especially since the world was turned upside-down in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Since March last year, my day-to-day role has been governed by the needs of the homeowners, whether it is helping them FaceTime loved ones, picking up essentials or just being a friendly face to chat to. The biggest challenge here at The Dairy has been fitting everything into one day, it’s been a huge team effort and we are lucky enough that we haven’t had any Covid cases – a testament to everyone’s hard work!”
Rhona and the team have dedicated their time to helping homeowners by posting letters and fetching all of their groceries, and they continue to do everything that is needed to minimise the number of trips homeowners feel they need to make outside of the development to help keep them safe.
“We were lucky enough to be able to host a range of socially distanced outdoor activities over the summer months, with homeowners enjoying live performances from local musicians, sweet treats and coffee in the gardens as well as themed quizzes delivered through their doors.
“A highlight for myself and the team was definitely the VE Day celebrations. We delivered afternoon tea and Prosecco to the homeowners’ apartments and played wartime songs through an amplifier so everyone could join in. It was such a special occasion, even with everyone socially distanced.”
Rhona continues, “It made a huge difference after the first lockdown, when the rules were eased. Families and friends could visit again at a distance, homeowners could socialise in the lounge area and they could once again dine in the bistro - it brought back the community feel that is so valued by our residents at The Dairy. It is a real shame that we have found ourselves in another lockdown, but we will continue to do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe.”
Speaking of her enjoyment for her role as Estates Manager, Rhona says, “There’s nothing not to love, it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to take the hard work away from the homeowners and support them to lead their independent lives. Usually within six months of moving-in to The Dairy, the homeowners blossom into what I can only describe as what they would have been like 10 years prior - relaxed, happy and full of life. It’s a joy to witness.
“The support that both the team and the homeowners have received from McCarthy Stone has been second to none. McCarthy Stone have sent magazines to the development for the homeowners to enjoy, hosted virtual talks, a chess club and created quiz and puzzle sheets to keep everyone entertained. As employers, they have been phenomenal. The team and I have been constantly informed and kept up-to-date and they have ensured that all of the staff feel appreciated and supported through this difficult time.”
Looking ahead into 2021, Rhona is optimistic that it will be a year full of hope for the homeowners at The Dairy. The team is cautiously optimistic that, once the current lockdown is over and the vaccine is more widely rolled out, the New Year will bring new beginnings allowing the homeowners to live an exciting and active retirement.
Rhona comments, “While we were unable to host the usual Christmas celebration for the homeowners, we had a fantastic surprise performance from The Skinners’ School shortly before Christmas. The grammar school boys gathered on the school lawn with their brass band to perform festive favourites for the homeowners. It was so thoughtful and really brought the Christmas magic to The Dairy, and the homeowners thoroughly enjoyed singing along!
“While we weren’t able to host our usual Christmas lunch together in the bistro, we kept the magic of Christmas alive by dressing homeowners’ tables in their apartments and serving them as if they were enjoying their Christmas meal in the bistro – and of course, we did the washing up for them too!”
Rhona continues, “Although 2020 was a challenging year, the sense of community has strengthened and we have been lucky enough to welcome an influx of new homeowners as a result of the supportive, yet independent lifestyle we offer at The Dairy. I would urge Tunbridge Wells’ retirees to consider the fantastic community at The Dairy for their next move.”