Guest Blog: Belong's Tracy Paine Discusses Integrated Models for Senior Living

15 August 2019

In the first of our guest blog series, Tracy Paine, Deputy Chief Executive at Belong discusses why integrated models are the key to making senior living work for people…

Specialist provision can be a poisoned chalice. Of course, on the one hand, it is essential, particularly when designing housing or care provision for people with complex needs. But on the other, it can also mean a very ‘one dimensional’ approach, with most specialist settings either being designed for people able to live independently or those with high support needs, often down to very specific diagnoses around dementia or nursing.

With over 25 years' track record in providing care and accommodation for older people, Belong’s experience was that this really didn’t work for people at an individual level. It often resulted in them being ‘moved around’ as their needs changed and safety measures intended to provide a sense of security instead left people feeling segregated, frustrated and isolated.

A model village

Through careful research, consultation with customers and their families, extensive planning and pilot projects to trial our household concept, we paved a successful journey to the development of our Belong village model. This was based on creating vibrant communities with a range of accommodation types and services that provide a 'Home for Life', where generations and communities come together to support families to live well with the challenges that dementia and frailty can present.

This clarity about what our customers wanted and having a focused strategy and vision has been key to our success and put Belong villages in a really strong position within the senior housing and care market, both nationally and internationally.

Designing for all and defying preconceptions

Equally importantly, we were clear from the outset that building design would be key to the success of the model – on two fronts. Firstly, we knew that if it worked for people with dementia, it would work for everyone. The early retirement village environments had very much focused on the over 50s. Our vision was to make active living a reality for the over 80s.

We worked closely with our architects, who had specialist expertise in designing spaces for older people, to ensure that we created an enabling environment, with modern, open plan spaces that maximised independence, minimised reliance on memory and simplified navigation. Easy, secure access to the outdoors was also vital, designed in through patios, large balconies and dementia friendly gardens.

The second aspect of the design process has been simply, but importantly, around quality and aesthetics: creating beautiful spaces where people would actively choose to live. Defying people’s preconceptions about care homes and creating the ‘wow’ factor was very much part of the design brief.

I honestly believe that the key features that have led to our success have been a combination of the specialism in nursing and dementia care, and together with Pozzoni, we have been fortunate to research the best in older people’s housing in care, both nationally and internationally, to create what you now see in our Belong villages.

Future spaces

Having proven the concept in our first decade of operating villages, the challenge moving forward is to continue to innovate and evolve the model to enrich people’s lives and enhance wellbeing outcomes.

Last year, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, we opened our first village featuring a heritage gallery: a listed 17th century building integrated within the wider care village, which has enabled us to establish a cultural attraction linking the past and the present, and has provided new ways of attracting and interacting with the wider community.

This year, we have piloted a groundbreaking arts partnership with the Bluecoat centre for contemporary arts, leading to plans for two Belong villages due to open in 2020 to employ artists in residence and offer better thought-out spaces for creating and exhibiting art works.

Excitingly, we are also working on plans to incorporate an early years nursery within a Belong village, aiming to build on the opportunities for intergenerational experiences within our village and create a truly integrated model.

We recognise that the solutions for continuous improvement come through listening to our customers and being open to continuously learning about what is right for them. After all, they are the experts.