Homes have to be designed to help us grow old gracefully
WITH the number of over-60year-olds projected to increase by seven million over the next 25 years, and much of the UK’s existing housing stock inaccessible or unsuitable, the lack of good quality homes for older people is a real concern.
If we are to achieve a balanced society, then we need to create places where people of all ages, live, work and play in close proximity to one another.
If people are forced by circumstance to leave their own homes, then frequently, they move into large residential blocks, cut off from mainstream society.
You will see these blocks on the edges of many towns and cities. Typically, they accommodate around 50 or 60 couples or singles, each with their own small apartment accessed from a long dark corridor.
People often feel trapped and remote from the everyday world in these buildings, which are constructed this way largely for economic reasons related to the levels of in-house care, rather than to produce a pleasant environment in which to live.
How refreshing it would be to see smaller developments catering for the elderly and sited next to shops, libraries, community facilities and other tenures of housing.
Imagine occupants having ready physical and visual access to the passer-by, where they can engage in the necessary daily chit chat of life. Such housing could form part of mixeduse developments, perhaps occupying the lower storey of general apartment blocks.
Maybe a sense of belonging to a wider community, would encourage interaction and well-being. A happy person, is generally a healthy person.
These issues were looked at in detail with the recent HAPPI Report [Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation]. Good design allows older people to stay at home for longer, avoiding falls and related treatment.
In designing new buildings, we can allow for ease of movement, incorporating the principles of Lifetime Homes, pioneered by The Rowntree Foundation.
Unfortunately, current government thinking seems to indicate that legislation to make this happen is not necessary and housing should be left to a market force to determine. It is not a good recipe.
Legislation for size and access within dwellings is of paramount importance, if we are to build housing stock capable of changing to suit an ageing population. HAPPI recommended specific components for the design of housing for older people that mirror the internal domestic environment of the housing industry in Europe, where apartment homes are a conventional part of urban culture.
In Europe, older people experience the benefits of greater security and less maintenance, and enjoy the conviviality of shared space.
Homes for older people should be at the heart of existing places and communities. The report concluded with four important issues:
The time has come for a national effort to build the homes that will meet our needs and aspirations as we all grow older; we should all plan ahead positively, creating demand for better choice through a greater range of housing opportunities; housing for older people should become an exemplar for mainstream housing, and meet higher design standards for space and quality; local planning authorities should play a key role to ensure delivery of desirable housing in great places, tuned to local need and demand.
These issues demand national legislation, care from designers and inclusive thinking from care support agencies and the local authorities. They are not difficult issues to solve.
Perhaps then, we may have the facility to grow old gracefully