Bedford’s comprehensive medical centre initiative set to draw more home buyers

As the pace and pressures of modern living seem to constantly gather momentum, ironically the very advances in technology which contribute to the status quo are enabling an increasing number of people to relocate to small towns and continue to generate income in more relaxed, countrified environs.

The picturesque Bedford is situated near Grahamstown (pictured here) in the Eastern Cape

Says Abigail White, a Pam Golding Properties agent in picturesque Bedford, near Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape: “While this trend is not really new, we’re seeing how innovative thinking is prompting a move to a more balanced way of life, but without compromising on quality.”

White is a good example of someone who has made the transition work for her. She moved from London where she worked as a field operations director for a healthcare recruitment company. “I was largely responsible for staff retention. While I was abroad I also worked as an interior designer upgrading commercial and residential properties, and have been involved in property development and renovation for more than 20 years.

“I bought a derelict house in Bedford on a whim during a brief visit from London and relocated here permanently two years later when I met Drix, my farmer husband.

“About seven-and-a-half years ago, not long after I moved to Bedford, I was approached by Pam Golding Properties Grahamstown area principal Daphne Timm, to join her team and set up a new satellite office in Bedford.

“This town offers a wonderful, quality environment with good old-fashioned community values. My hope is that the town evolves slowly and deliberately. Kempston Properties’ recent development of a hotel complex has helped give Bedford a much-needed facelift and the town is improving its appearance and amenities month by month.

“Shopping and other commercial facilities already include a supermarket and wholesaler, two major banks, two attorneys, hair salon, the Duke of Bedford Inn, the already famous Apprentice deli, pharmacy, post office, Caltex garage, music shop, art shop, boutique and of course our real estate agency. Bedford Country School, which offers private education to children from 3-11 years is thriving and Grahamstown schools and the university are only an hour’s drive away.

“While these amenities are attracting those from further afield, we’d like to add healthcare to our service offering. Bedford Hospital offers limited service and our aged community needs additional healthcare services which are currently often about two hours away.”

The brainchild of local psychiatrist, Kiran Sukeri, development of a dedicated wellness centre is already under way. This project is also being developed by Kempston Properties on a well-positioned site along an avenue of trees near the golf club. The existing building, which was originally a six bedroom home, is currently being refurbished, with Sukeri the first tenant.

A second healthcare professional tenant, Susan McGarvie, a qualified nurse who has an Honours degree in psychology and Masters in palliative care, has also been secured. Long term plans are to build a frail care or rehabilitation facility on the same site.

Says White: “Right now we’re looking for a doctor who’d like to enjoy a different lifestyle – settle here and make a long term commitment to the community. Ultimately we are hoping to attract six healthcare professionals to fill spaces which include a general practitioner (GP), psychiatrist, occupational therapist and a physiotherapist. Benefits for these professionals include the sharing of administrative support and operating costs while patients will have access to a comprehensive range of healthcare services in one convenient location.

Priced at R1.95 million, this fully renovated and tastefully decorated Victorian property in Bedford is marketed by Pam Golding Properties. Situated in one of the town’s most sought after streets, it has three bedrooms – all with wooden floors, built-in wardrobes and en-suite bathrooms, while stack-away doors in the living room open onto a wrap around verandah with spectacular mountain views.

“Fairways Wellness Centre, as it is called, will attract and retain more people living in the area and also create an increased demand for residential property. For years Bedford has been compared to Clarens and I believe with more artists and shopping options there is finally the possibility of taking it to the next level. I have had recent conversations with farming friends who are considering the possibility of retiring in Bedford if we can resolve the long-term healthcare issue and work towards a quality frail care facility which could attract tenants from further afield.”

Elaborating on Fairways, Sukeri says the concept is to create a comprehensive and integrated medical centre providing basic and specialist medical services. “This is why we need to attract a GP and probably visiting medical specialists, as currently occurs in other practices.“

“The nearby Adelaide Hospital, some 20km away, has a medical aid section and individual medical specialists may negotiate with the CEO regarding admissions there. It would be ideal to be able to utilise local human resources, such as the clinical psychologist in Somerset East, and so on. In this way we would enhance care and improve partnerships specifically in a rural area, in so doing ensuring the sustainability of a rural healthcare practice.

“This is an ideal starting point for a medical professional with their heart set on rural medicine. While the word ‘rural’ implies absolute isolation, the contrary is true for Bedford. He or she will find a thriving community with activities for young and old, and already attracting people from Adelaide, Fort Beaufort, Somerset East and as far as East London and Port Elizabeth. Bedford will allow a medical professional to grow his/her practice quickly, as there is a dire need for a GP.”

Sukeri himself moved with his young family from East London in 2015. The intention was to give up the ‘rat race’ and move to an area with a more slow and peaceful way of life. “This is a very community driven town that is perfectly located in the Eastern Cape, two hours from East London and PE, 90km from Grahamstown and 60km from Fort Beaufort.” There are no traffic jams here, quips Sukeri. ”Our son attends the local school, which provides top notch education and is a feeder school for The Diocesan School for Girls and St Andrews.”  Sukeri qualified as a psychiatrist in 2006 and completed his PhD in 2015. He initially worked at the East London Mental health Unit for nine years before taking up a post as the head of psychiatry at Tower Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Beaufort, and then took up a career in private mental health.

Dr Haggis Black, an Adelaide based GP who grew up on a rural farm in Zimbabwe, echoes Sukeri’s sentiments: “I moved to Adelaide in 1983 after a couple of years in Grahamstown and relish the community-spirit and fantastic lifestyle which a small town has to offer. There’s definitely a great need and appeal for a young practitioner to move into the area.”

Adds White: “There’s also a 20 hour-a-week part-time post available at the Bedford Hospital which would make a perfect secure start for a GP opening a brand new practice.“

Encouragingly, White says the average age of homeowners in Bedford has dropped significantly in recent years as more young families move in. “More people work successfully from home, while increased commercial business has increased job opportunities for young people. We also have an affordable retirement village and historically a large, older community.”

She says home buyers come from all over the country – previously mostly from East London but more recently from Port Elizabeth and other parts of the country, seeking good value under R1 million. Here in Bedford a two bedroom home starts at R400 000 and a five bedroom home with swimming pool can fetch up to R2.7 million. Farms vary from under 1 000ha to 2 400ha priced in excess of R15 000 per hectare. Most properties have beautiful views of the Winterberg mountain range.

“One of my favourite listings at the moment is in Porter Street, a lovely Victorian property in excellent condition with an established garden and three double bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms and priced at R1.95 million. Bedford has some truly lovely Victorian homes, while Templeton School and Bedford Hospital are both Herbert Baker designed buildings.”

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