Delivering homes for an ageing population

Thursday 21 November 2013

Roden Court

The UK must change its attitude towards ageing and deliver homes to serve older people so that their accommodation is treated less like a hospital environment and more as an aspirational choice.

That was one of the key messages to emerge from a special half-day conference at the NLA yesterday morning at which key figures in the profession debated how we can best deliver homes for an ageing population, with over 65s set to reach 1.17 million people in London by 2031. 

Deputy mayor for housing Richard Blakeway began by saying that the assumption in the era of the Seaside and Country Homes scheme was that when you get older you leave the metropolis. ‘But actually that fundamental assumption was wrong, and we’re really missing so much by having a mindset that the capital should be solely a young city’, he said. And with the prospect of numbers of over 85-year-olds doubling, more of the debate should be about what happens as people age, shifting it away from all the talk of first-time buyers and student accommodation. This could start with more providers taking an interest beyond firms like Berkeley Homes, and perhaps even housing associations, with housing for older people more considered at the heart of regeneration schemes, Blakeway added that such schemes could play a key part in revitalising the town centres of outer London.

David Driscoll, the property and business development director for Audley Retirement, said that on entering the sector he had been shocked by the awful provision and poor space standards that exist for a growing proportion of the older in society, who hold much of the equity. Indeed, he said, 75 per cent of the over 65s own their own home, which is ‘a heck of a lot of equity.’ Although many of the moves people make are predicated on bereavement or for physical reasons, it was not good enough to provide 500 sq ft flats with no washing machines, for example. ‘We have to do more’, he said. ‘Designers, planners, architects and developers need to come up with something and make it somewhere that anyone would want to live.’

The situation contrasts with that in the US, where the abundance of available land makes it easier, but retirement villages offer lessons for the UK in providing facilities that people want, rather than what they have to have. Audley’s own schemes offer community facilities and staff, avoiding the ‘grab handle mentality’ of spaces which remind people only that life is ticking away.

The mayor’s design guide should produce better homes for the over 65s, however, said David Birkbeck, CEO of Design for Homes, especially on the vexed issue of storage – ‘these people have a lifetime of tat.’ But because of the high number of challenges associated with providing facilities, there are few operators. One to watch, though, said Birkbeck, may be Pegasus Life, which has £500 million of investment from Oaktree Capital Management ‘because they have spotted there is this weird gap.’

But another obstacle to negotiate is the image of the ageing population, said Tom Teatum or Teatum and Teatum, who presented some of the findings of the Building Futures report, Silver Linings – the active third age and the city. This looked at new models including the members’ club mansion block as an international cross between a hotel, members club and timeshare. But Teatum added that there is more of a need to talk about desire in the over 65s in order to create an alternative vision to that put across by the advertising industry, for example.

PTEa’s Patrick Devlin said that issues such as space and flexibility in accommodation are crucial, alongside large amounts of daylighting and a connection to the outside world. These perhaps need standards to force architects to calculate the glare and heat loss involved in incorporating large windows, he said. But we must also take on board some of the lessons from Europe, said PRP partner Anne Marie Nicholson, who visited a number of innovative projects as part of the HAPPI report panel. Projects featured high quality materials, balconies, shared balconies and other external spaces, ‘unashamedly modern’ design, good, accessible locations alongside transport interchanges or above other uses such as cafés, and the incorporation of deck access that has inspired a PRP Lewisham scheme. ‘Housing for old people’, she said, ‘doesn’t have to look shocking’.

David Taylor, New London Quarterly

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