Greener pastures

Written by: Nadia Shaw-Owens

Shelley Gilliver from Summerset lets Nadia Shaw-Owens in on the serenely vibrant and joyful life of retirement. 

With a beautician and hair salon, a bowling green, pool facilities and happy hour, “it’s often called a resort!” laughs Shelley Gilliver, Sales Manager for Summerset on the Landing in Porirua, Wellington. Summerset, a conglomerate of villages across New Zealand, was founded by John O’Sullivan on the grounds of being utterly disheartened by the offering for his own grandmother’s retirement. O’Sullivan’s vision of creating a retirement community that residents are proud to call home has blossomed into 39 villages that offer the full works – “I was showing a couple through the village a few months ago and Lynn was out there watering her garden with the hose and then Allen passed the road on his bike, and the lady said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s just like the advertisement.’ I had to reassure her that they’re not paid actors and life is really like that here!” 

Gilliver’s sales title doesn’t quite fit the bill – her passion and enthusiasm for guiding elderly into the new stage of their life is closer to that of a guidance counsellor or a life coach –  likely due to Gilliver’s lack of interest in sales until she began the process of helping her mother select a retirement village. On the first tour of Summerset, Gilliver offhandedly expressed that the sales manager must have the best job on earth, to which they said, “Actually, there’s a role available…”

Building trust and understanding is vital in her position – “it’s not really sales, it is more of a relationship” – so Gilliver begins with meeting those seeking retirement living, or their children and family, over a cup of tea in her office. The first conversations around retirement living can be painful. Social anxieties, health care, and a grapple for independence are common concerns that are discussed in Gilliver’s office. What happens if mum or dad’s health declines? What if they feel lonely? Will they have access to meals? The sweet spot between valuing these concerns and kindly unfurling them is a zone that Gilliver delicately treads every day. “The key is keeping to the positives. The last thing that we want is to try and convince people to come in here that aren’t happy or aren’t ready, but misconceptions can be a real barrier.” 

A common stigma around retirement villages is that it is just for people at the very end of their life, but Gilliver is quick to shut this down. “People’s lives actually get more busy, and I’ve had a lot of family say, ‘Oh, we’ve been trying to get hold of mum, but she’s always out shopping, or at an event, or playing cards!’. One resident that’s been living here for about a year told me, ‘Shelley, I don’t remember laughing as much as I have since I started living here.’”

Gilliver is a treasure trove of heartwarming stories. She describes one woman whose husband passed away in the house they had shared for 60 years, and he had built himself. Once moving into the village, the woman spent her first few visits with Gilliver crying the entire time. But, now that she is settled, Gilliver describes her as the life and soul of the party, who enjoys regular visits from her son and daughter in law and grandson. One of the positives of retirement living for the family of the residents is that they can experience true, quality time together when they see each other. There’s no frantic rush of fitting in your parent’s lawns around your own – your visits are entirely at each other’s leisure. 

The detail and compassion in Gilliver’s words paints a picture of Summerset on the Landing as a family – made up of staff, ambassadors, and 300 residents.They even have a ‘Moving Specialist’, who is there purely for providing suggestions to overwhelmed movers of what could be sold, what should be kept, or what the family might like to take. 

Gilliver leaves us with this advice: “Don’t wait until it’s too late. I think almost every week I’ve heard people say we wish we’d moved in earlier.”

Related Stories

When Kirby Selchow describes how Tutus on Tour connects people, she can attest to it on a very deep and personal level.

Subscribe & WIN!

Subscribe to WOMAN+ for only $19.99 for the year and you’ll have a chance to WIN 2 Nights for 2 at JetPark Rotorua +
an Evening in the Polynesian Spa.

*You can unsubscribe at any time. By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.