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The vision behind the Whare Aroha Care village for residents with dementia

A Rotorua dementia facility will recreate the feel of a mid-century New Zealand town for its residents.

Architect’s design of Whare Aroha Care village includes a cafe and supermarket.
Architect’s design of Whare Aroha Care village includes a cafe and supermarket.


Secure dementia units can be dispiriting places: the locked door, the pervasive smell of institutional food, the cavernous lounge filled with ugly chairs and sad-looking residents.

Imagine how much happier they would be if they were living in a real house decorated in a familiar style, eating food prepared in a domestic kitchen and sitting in a normal-sized living room with just a few people who – in their previous lives – had similar interests and values.

Even more radical: what if they could wander down to the local cafe for a cup of tea, pick up a few groceries from a small supermarket, or simply stroll around a hectare or so of landscaped grounds safe and secure behind an unobtrusive fence?

Thérèse Jeffs is leading the project.
Thérèse Jeffs is leading the project.


That’s the vision behind the Whare Aroha Care village being built on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Based on the De Hogeweyk dementia village near Amsterdam, the Whare Aroha village will offer a new kind of dementia care for about 80 residents – but with a Kiwi twist.

Rather than providing apartment-style living on two storeys, the village, due to open in December, will have 13 separate houses, each staffed by an individual caregiver.

“In Holland, a lot of people live in high-rises, so it’s not unusual to be two to three floors up,” says Thérèse Jeffs, who is leading the $14 million project. “But in New Zealand, we don’t do that – most of us live in separate houses.”

The second stage of the project will involve building amenities such as a cafe, bar, small supermarket and hairdresser at the centre of the village.

The idea is to recreate the feel of a mid-century New Zealand town familiar to its residents. Plans to connect the houses with covered walkways were quickly abandoned – they weren’t around 50 years ago – as were thoughts of providing ensuite bathrooms for every bedroom.

“We are always asking ourselves, ‘Is this what happens in normal life?’” says Jeffs. “Do all bedrooms have ensuites? The answer is no.”

Architect’s design of Whare Aroha Care village includes a cafe and supermarket.
Architect’s design of Whare Aroha Care village includes a cafe and supermarket.


Each house will be decorated to reflect seven different “lifestyles” ranging from “country” to “classic”. Residents will live with five or six others whose previous interests, tastes and values most closely resemble theirs.

“When you’re put into care, you often end up with people you would never have mixed with. At the village, you’ll be living with people you are more likely to have been friends with.”

For Jeffs, who manages a Whare Aroha aged-care facility in central Rotorua, the opportunity to create the village came when she was told its lease was expiring. Forced to find new premises, she decided it was a chance to offer a completely different kind of care.

“I wasn’t happy with the way dementia care was done, and when we got the opportunity to do something different, we started looking at what was out there.”

She and her colleagues eventually settled on the De Hogeweyk model, and it will be the first dementia ­village to be built entirely from scratch outside Holland. Jeffs says the aim is to make life as happy and familiar as possible for people with dementia.

“We didn’t set out to do something groundbreaking. We just wanted the best possible facility for our families and for our residents.”

De Hogeweyk dementia village near Amsterdam.
De Hogeweyk dementia village near Amsterdam.


She says the cost is not much different from building a traditional aged-care facility. Money has been saved by not having to provide amenities such as sluicing rooms or multiple bathrooms, and the cost of furniture will also be low – a lot of it will come from op shops to create a more familiar feel.

As Grant Barrowman, associate director at Ignite Architects, which has designed the village, points out: “You don’t have all brand-new ­furniture in your own home.”

Barrowman, who likens the ­concept of the village to the movie The Truman Show, has enjoyed the challenge of the project. He’s also excited by the possibilities it offers for a new kind of dementia care.

“If my mum was living there, I would love to be able to go down to the cafe to have a coffee with her or take her to the supermarket.”

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