Better living in later life

5 April 2018

An ageing population

In 2010, the proportion of the UK population aged 65 and over was 17 per cent. By 2035, it is estimated to reach 23 per cent.

With the country’s population ageing rapidly, it’s no surprise that the senior living sector, and the demand for purpose-built accommodation for the elderly, continues to grow.

As architects, how we respond to this demand and ensure we design future-proof living accommodation options for older people is high on our agenda. But as we look ahead to MIPIM 2018, it will be interesting to hear what developers and city planners working in other areas of the UK are doing to help tackle the issue.

A case for city living

Despite the senior living sector growing, many older people still face the limited choice of ‘care home or my home’, with few developments available to them that cover off that in between phase of just needing a little extra support in certain areas.

One trend that is being increasingly discussed is the need for more city centre accommodation suitable for older residents. It is a common misconception that as people retire, they will want to move to away from city life. But for those who have lived their entire adult lives in busy towns and cities, or simply enjoy the vibrancy that these areas can offer, a country retreat isn’t necessarily a retirement option that will appeal to them. Professionals from various sectors, including healthcare and development, are focusing more on the need for accommodation for older people in central locations, close to amenities, transport hubs, social groups and within easy reach of specialist medical services.

Last year, Village 135, an extra care development we designed for over 55s in central Wythenshawe, welcomed its first residents. Every element of Village 135 has been envisioned with the user and their changing needs in mind, providing flexible, high-end apartments without the institutional feel of a traditional residential care home. As a result, the development is both modern and functional, allowing residents the flexibility that they need to stay in their apartments even if their needs change. While the scheme offers on-site facilities including an IT suite, bistro, spa, and sensory gardens, its central location means Wythenshawe’s many amenities are just a short walk away and Manchester city centre is also within easy reach.

Last year, planning permission was granted for a new Pozzoni-designed Belong village in Chester, which will provide world-leading dementia care in the heart of the city. The village centre will host a range of services, including a bistro, gym, hair salon and therapy rooms, creating a new city centre community for the older generation. As well as providing the elderly with more independence, city centre projects like the Belong Chester contribute to sustainable placemaking through increased diversity.

In the UK, 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week, something more damaging to health than we may think. Research shows that loneliness has a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

By focusing on designing purpose-built accommodation in city centres, with a mix of on-site facilities that encourage socialisation and a sense of community, we can help to avoid the hugely detrimental effects of loneliness.

But as well as needing more accommodation that meets the needs of older generations, city centres themselves must be well-designed too.

In a report by the World Health Organisation on the age-friendliness of 35 major world cities, cleanliness, well-maintained green spaces and pedestrian-friendly walkways were all high on the agenda. The rise of PRS developments demonstrates the work that is being done to continue to attract young people to our cities, but it’s time we work collectively to make our city centres places where all are included, where older people are encouraged to enjoy their retirement years and we embrace intergenerational living.

Limited by choice

Right now, there simply isn’t the volume of developments in town and city centres that cater to the changing needs of the elderly to make it a viable option for many.

As architects, we understand the power of well-designed retirement living options and the wider ramifications that appropriate housing options can have. High-quality accommodation in central locations, and extra care villages that become thriving communities, can have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of the elderly and can allow them to remain independent for longer. It can also help to alleviate some of the strain on the NHS by keeping people safe, comfortable and mentally stimulated.

With the sector growing at an exciting rate and the chance to make some real change, all of us at Pozzoni are looking forward to discussing these topics further at MIPIM and of course hearing the ideas and approaches that others are developing.