The benefits of bringing housing for older people into urban renewal plans

8th February 2021 By Bob Smaylen

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The shifting sands of the UK’s demographics mean that our population is both growing and ageing. From the changing way older generations want to live their lives to the appropriateness, affordability and quality of accommodation for all, the social implications of this shift are a multifaceted and multigenerational pressure cooker; creating an issue of national importance.

After all, one day we will all be older. But just what do we want our futures to look like? And who is going to take the action needed to make this vision a reality?

With our struggling high streets and town centres ripe for regeneration, Prime has an impassioned belief that these spaces are the solutions to the economic challenges of today and the impending social challenges of the future.

 

The housing stock shock

By the middle of this century, there will be more than 17 million people aged over 65 in the UK — a 5m increase from the start of this decade. When you consider that in the mid-20th Century there were 5.3m people of this age, it’s startling to realise just how rapidly this age group is expanding and how urgently action is required to address the needs and aspirations of older people.

Yet despite the inescapable realities of this surging demographic shift, the housing market has failed to keep pace. With a housing stock that predominantly caters to families and a growing number of older people more likely to live alone or in a couple, the commonality of under-occupied houses means that the UK is on course for a 20m surplus of bedrooms by 2040 — with 60% of them inhabited by over 65s.

With a shortage of specialist housing for older people that encourages and enables them to downsize, movement within the housing market is severely restricted. A recent report by the British Property Federation estimates there are just 475,000 specialist housing units in the UK for older people who don’t require a care home but want the advantages of purpose-built accommodation. This in turn limits the options of young families desperate to get onto the housing ladder, while also preventing older people from accessing accommodation that increases their wellbeing and social connections.

 

Life is for living; longer, stronger, together

Youthful is the new attitude when it comes to the over 65s, and while there is a worrying health and financial divide within the group, many over 65s are healthier and wealthier than they ever have been, with an appetite to live life to the fullest. In contrast to people of working age who have cut back on personal spending over the last decade, retirees have increased their spending and demonstrated the value of the silver pound by adding billions to the economy.

In addition to their spending power, the over 65s are making wider socio-economic contributions, from working longer and generating increased revenue through taxation through to unpaid caring, childcare and volunteering contributions. Over 65s play a vital role within our social structures, so we overlook and underestimate their skills and contributions to society at our peril.

Over 65s now lead more active lifestyles than generations before them, with an aspirational desire to keep busy and lead more socially connected lives. With the ability to release equity from their existing homes by downsizing, many are crying out for accommodation that can simultaneously boost their independence, health and wellbeing. This makes town centres the ideal location to meet the needs of this group with the time, inclination and resources to take advantage of leisure, retail, transport, health and community services.

“Urban Later Living developments, like our new scheme in West Byfleet, are designed to both boost community value and deliver desirable amenities to our residents. Centred around a public square at the heart of the village, this central location epitomises the enormous potential of urban locations across the UK to enhance community involvement, active living and access to services for an aspirational older generation. Supporting the local economy and community too, this scheme is a great example of how vacant office space and a dated retail parade can be replaced with a considered blend of amenities; in this case, a wellness centre, a new pedestrianised square enclosed by boutique-style retail and leisure uses, a brand new public library and modern car park.”

James Ahearne, Development Director at Retirement Villages Group.

 

Pumping life back into the hearts of our towns and cities

With the gaze of developers and investors shifting towards this group, there have been increases in the provision of fit-for-purpose accommodation that promotes independence and provides active, sociable and high-quality living standards for older people. Later Living developments have so far been more rapidly adopted outside the UK. However, there is a growing demand for this type of accommodation from older people ready to swap family homes for spaces that positively enhance their physical and mental wellbeing.

The Belong Care Village in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, delivered in partnership with Prime, provides a mix of flexible accommodation that caters to the diverse needs of this age group. It places older people at the heart of the community in this town centre location. Combining a choice of independent living apartments with nursing and dementia care facilities, the village also boasts a vibrant bistro, exercise studio, heritage gallery, tea rooms, pub, hair and beauty salon, therapy suite and function rooms – all open to the wider community.

Not only do these types of developments support the needs and aspirations of an ageing population, they can also transform neglected town centre areas into vibrant, purposeful community spaces, proving that a relatively small footprint can deliver dramatic results.

Unlike shop-front facelifts, or temporary pop-up spaces which fail to galvanise transformative action, considered developments with strong community engagement provide sustainable and successful solutions. Solutions that balance commercial viability with the value of health, wellbeing and community provide a catalyst for real and lasting change. By providing amenities for older people in the heart of our towns and cities, benefits can also be delivered for the wider community and economy, as demonstrated by Belong care villages.

“The primary ambition of all our care villages is to provide the highest quality living environment for our residents and, integral to this, is the concept that people are able to connect and maintain meaningful relationships with the wider community. The on-site leisure and retail facilities are therefore designed to bring in local people and, with the range of spaces, events and activities offered through its heritage gallery, Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme is a prime example of a Belong village delivering extensive benefits to the locality. This goes beyond job creation and the regeneration of a once-derelict site to establishing an inclusive, welcoming and popular destination for people of all ages and backgrounds within the town.”

Tracey Stakes, Chief Executive, Belong.

 

Blending old and new, young and old

While traditional thinking around urban regeneration has previously placed a high value on the ability of leisure facilities to revitalise commercial centres where retail is failing, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on this industry too. At the same time, it has also brought the importance of health and care into sharper focus and made heroes of the dedicated people delivering these vital services.

The challenges of an ageing population and the economic challenges of the pandemic mean that we can no longer rely on traditional models of urban regeneration to revitalise town centre spaces. Our town centres need to become blended, multi-use spaces that help us to prioritise health, wellbeing and community: a carefully curated mix of retail, leisure, culture, health and community.

An integral part of successful town centre developments is their ability to bridge the divides between communities. In creating shared spaces and reducing the barriers between generations and cultures, you can provide organic opportunities in which to connect. This is a stark contrast to the isolation and loneliness so many people (in particular older people) feel in the current status quo.

“Social isolation and loneliness are universal issues that affect a cross-section of society and tackling them requires policies that focus on inclusive solutions that work at every age. When it comes to building relationships and feelings of belonging, places where people can meet and connect with each other are a crucial part of the solution. And transport, physical spaces – such as libraries and high streets – and digital spaces can all enable us to turn the tide on the devastating impacts of loneliness.”

Jo Siddles, Project Manager, Prime.

Given the serious impact loneliness can have on our physical and mental health, it seems illogical to isolate members of our society who yearn for social connections in edge-of-town developments or within disconnected communities. Data shows that 90% of 50-74 year-olds go out socially at least once a week and that only drops to 65% for the over 80s.  In bringing older people into the heart of our communities we can increase opportunities for social connections and give them access to amenities and care that enrich everyone’s lives.

 

Success relies on a bespoke solution for every community

When it comes to the development of new urban health and care villages, Prime’s extensive research and delivery of these spaces reveal that a town with a population of between 95,000 to 100,000 can sustain a scheme of 175,000 sq ft and above. With over 100 towns and cities across the UK with this population size, there are real opportunities to transform both urban spaces and the lives of a growing older population.

The damage caused by the pandemic to our town centre economies has sped up what was already an inevitable reduction of land values. It has also brought wider acceptance of the need to devise more meaningful and sustainable solutions for our town centres and communities. Building back the jobs that have been lost and providing opportunities to connect with each other again after so much separation.

As we reflect on the homogenisation of the British high street and its subsequent failings, it is clear that towns and cities need and deserve bespoke solutions. When it comes to delivering the urban health and care concept there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, community need and involvement must be at the heart of every new development.

Creating a meaningful pull, that draws people back to our town centres relies on collaboration in the widest sense. But the will is there.

Investors are seeking opportunities for positive and sustainable investments, retailers want the advantages of greater footfall, communities are crying out for better amenities and older people want high-quality accommodation that enables them to live their latter years to the fullest. The answers to all of these demands can be found in the regeneration of our town centres. And the key to unlocking these challenges are developers like Prime.

Driving a balance between commercial and community needs to bring about sustainable and transformative change. The task is too costly and complex for local authorities, health leaders and care providers alone to tackle. Instead these concepts require a collaborative and action-focused effort from the public and private sector, along with the communities they impact, to deliver exciting new developments that will both meet the challenges of our ageing population and reinvent our urban spaces.