Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Tonic, the UK’s First LGBT+ Affirming Retirement Community

27 Jun 2024

A group of people stand facing the camera smiling under some bunting

In the spirit of Pride Month, it is essential to SSE that we highlight initiatives that have sustained, profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community. One such initiative is Tonic, the UK’s first LGBTQ+ affirming retirement community, co-founded in 2014 by Ali Wilson, CEO at the SSE, alongside a small group of friends and sector partners. This groundbreaking venture is not just a retirement community; it is a testament to the power of inclusivity and community support.

The Birth of Tonic

The idea of Tonic was born out of necessity and the desire to provide a safe, inclusive environment for elder LGBTQ+ individuals. The concept emerged from casual conversation between two friends in a pub garden, who recognised the unique challenges faced by older people within the LGBTQ+ community.

Many older LGBTQ+ individuals do not have children or long-term partners to support them in their later years, leading to increased loneliness, isolation and a lack of advocacy for their healthcare. With some of his LGBTQ+ friends, including SSE fellow and social entrepreneur James Greenshields, Geoff Pine, retired principal of a South London Further Education College, and Gilly Green, head of grants for Comic Relief, Ali saw the need for a solution that catered specifically to this demographic.

Their vision was to create a community where LGBTQ+ elders could live without fear of discrimination, surrounded by peers who shared similar life experiences. After initial setbacks, the team garnered support from key figures in the funding community and began to build their vision, and were able to bring Anna Kear, CEO on board to turn the Tonic dream into a reality.

Tonic in Operation

Tonic operates as an LGBTQ+ affirming retirement community facilitating extra care within the co-housing model, where residents have their own private apartments with the added benefit of communal spaces, healthcare and facilities

Located on the South Bank between Vauxhall Bridge and Albert Embankment, Tonic’s residence is housed in a stunning Norman Foster-designed building. The facility includes partial river views, balconies, a raised garden, a bar, and a restaurant, all designed to foster a sense of community and belonging.

The operational model of Tonic is based on a part-buy, part-rent scheme, allowing residents to purchase between 25% and 75% of their apartments while renting the remainder. This structure ensures that Tonic remains accessible to those from diverse economic backgrounds. The initiative has received widespread attention and support, including sponsorship from Beefeater Gin and media coverage from major publications worldwide.

The Impact of an LGBTQ+ Affirming Retirement Community

Since its inception, Tonic has significantly impacted the community by addressing the critical issues of loneliness and isolation among elder LGBTQ+ individuals.

The community is vibrant, with residents regularly engaging in social activities, from film nights and arts afternoons to high-profile events and day trips. These activities foster a strong sense of community and mutual support, with residents forming close bonds and supporting each other through life’s challenges.

“Most importantly, they support each other”
-Ali Wilson, CEO at SSE on the community at Tonic

Tonic’s approach highlights the importance of relatability and shared experiences in elder care. Many LGBTQ+ elders have lived through periods of severe discrimination and have often hidden their identities to avoid mistreatment. Tonic provides a safe space where they can be open about their identities and form meaningful connections without fear.

The success of Tonic serves as a powerful demonstration to mainstream elder care providers. It showcases the necessity of creating inclusive environments where LGBTQ+ individuals can thrive. By providing a community where residents feel safe and supported, Tonic is not only enhancing the quality of life for its residents but also setting a precedent for the future of elder care.

Now, as we celebrate Pride Month, Tonic stands as a beacon of progress and a testament to the power of inclusive community initiatives. It is a shining example of how thoughtful, inclusive care can transform lives and foster a sense of belonging for all.


Reminisce on blog posts from previous Pride Months:

Out and Proud: Our experiences as LGBTQ+ social entrepreneurs The School for Social Entrepreneurs (

Moving beyond the rainbow The School for Social Entrepreneurs (