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Reinventing Third Age Housing

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Interview between Research Manager Mike Althorpe and Associate Suzanne Prest and Architectural Assistant Ben Yeates

MA: What does Third Age Homes refer to?

SP: Third age homes refers to those intended for older adults, usually anyone over 55 years, but within this group, a huge range of needs and types of responses are emerging

MA: What is driving change and forcing a rethink in this sector of housing?

BY: The UK has an ageing population and much of our historic dwelling stock is not fit for purpose. Older people tend to live in traditional family-sized houses. It is understandable that people want to grow old in the places they call home. However, there are risks and costs for those living in inappropriate housing. Injuries from falls in the home affect millions of over 65s each year, costing the NHS an estimated £4.6 million a day.

SP: Specialist 1:1 care and adaptation of historic properties can be hugely expensive. Large swathes of our cities are suburbs and their sprawling layouts can encourage isolation. In older age these distances and a lack of social infrastructure can amplify loneliness and affect mental agility. If more older people could choose more appropriate forms of housing it could release more family-sized homes into the market.

MA: How can we make third age and retirement homes better?

SP: So many retirement homes are little more than 30m2A lack of space prohibits quality of life and options. It can mean choosing between a double bed or a sofa in an open plan space, not having a dining table and not being able to entertain on your own terms. In new projects, in line with HAPPI principles/best practice, we are looking at circa. 55m2. This affords flexibility for how people want to live, but also accommodates things like wheelchair use, storage needs or potentially a live-in carer if that becomes a requirement.

MA: Where are these types of homes going in future?

SP: Historically, third age homes were in suburban locations or in smaller and often coastal towns across the UK. These locations are always going to be desirable, but they are not always appropriate. The 2021 London Plan for example puts a new emphasis upon accessibility, promoting sites that are close to public transport and within short walking distances to shops, essential services and amenities. Alongside that encouraging mixed communities, such guidance will encourage more third age home development within our cities and the next generation may view continued urban living as something more desirable and this helps reduce living costs and dependence on cars.

MA: What design elements make retirement living more desirable?

SP: Space standards and promoting social interaction are key. A well-proportioned dual-aspect flat with its own private outdoor amenity space can be well suited for all kinds of third age groups. Organisation of the dwelling should be such that it creates regular visual connections with outdoors and promotes active and sociable living. For example, a flat with thresholds that allow for personalisation; putting out a table and chair and plants in view of and proximity with neighbours.

BY: Circulation and the visibility of people within a development is also key. Watching people coming and go, encountering one another in a mix of indoor and outdoor communal spaces creates variety and stimulating environments, this is especially important in managing changes in older life such as the onset of dementia and staying active.