'Pride and Prejudice: are IRCs the solution?' by Ian Mellor

3 July 2024

Integrated Retirement Communities (IRCs) are not a new concept in the UK. That said, we know that the current UK market penetration is much less commonplace than in the US and Australia. This raises the question; with such an inherent under supply and an ageing population, do our policymakers / local authorities understand IRCs and the benefits they can bring?


The award winning TV series ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, and the subsequent One Show filming at the intergenerational care village Chester Belong, both showcase age positivity by bringing together a group of people (many of whom would be eligible to live in an IRC) to find new social connections supported and encouraged by children. What was quickly evident in these programmes was the positive impacts of living with people who had the same shared experiences, the new friendships that were formed and how this allowed them to put negative past experiences behind them and move forward and overcome new challenges.

Our ageing population have an amazing set of skills and life experiences that should be shared. It is this community that offers support to each other, removing the barriers of social isolation allowing them to continue doing the things they enjoy for longer and even making new friends along the way.

IRCs can provide a supportive thriving community, and an environment that is designed to support ageing in place, with access to care packages, removing the stress of property and car maintenance and combined with on-site security teams allows residents to use their time doing the things they choose to do; learning, sports, new skills, volunteering, supporting childcare for the family or just relaxing.

Last year, ARCO (Associated Retirement Communities Operators) launched its manifesto for an IRC in every town. The aim of the manifesto is to ensure every older person has the choice of living in an IRC wherever they live and whatever their resources. The benefits that people in late old-age experience when they move into an IRC should be mainstream, not the exception. However, achieving this will mean that policymakers will need to do things differently. The traditional approach of policymakers toward older people’s housing needs to be set aside and the manifesto cites policymakers needing to ‘lean-in to older people’s housing’. The good news is that the steps required to secure the potential of the IRC sector are achievable, and at limited cost.


Ageism has created some common stereotypes about our older population, with generalised views of frailty, being put out to pasture, and burdening our existing health services. Residents, operators, designers and those professionals that work within the sector will certainly tell you this is not the case, but do our policymakers / local authorities understand our ageing population?

IRCs are not new in the UK; we have been building them for over 40 years. What is important to understand is that the needs and expectations of residents are constantly changing. IRCs can play an important role in the UK’s housing crisis but, in order to do this, we need our policymakers / local authorities to take up the invitations from operators to visit their schemes, talk to residents, listen to them and understand that these schemes are so much more than general needs housing. They allow our ageing population to live longer, reduce the reliance on the NHS and live in thriving, active communities bringing fulfillment to their retirement.

The Centre for Ageing Better has produced some great information to challenge ageism, shifting the associations of frailty, vulnerability and dependency with our ageing population, in fact the organisation is building an age-friendly movement across the UK and is leading the Age Without Limits campaign.

Encouraging bigger steps forward towards age positivity is what is required, and our policymakers should acknowledge the importance of IRCs and the benefits they bring to local areas, by assessing the local need, and allocation of sites to support and integrate the delivery of housing with care for our ageing population in their local plans.

Old age will affect us all, but we have the chance to positively impact that change with IRCs.

Ian Mellor - Pozzoni