Better design and more community feel needed in ‘rightsize’ homes for older people

More than three million homeowners aged over 55 are looking to move in the UK, but there are few suitable properties specifically designed and built for older people.

Recently the Architects Journal brought together a panel of architects and developers for a round-table discussion on how to address the challenges of building more high-quality homes for older people.

Among the key points raised by participants was that much of the housing stock currently available to older people is unappealing and seen as being “apart” from the rest of the community.

The newer stock coming on to the market is beginning to address that, providing homeowners with their own front doors rather than being enclosed, having access to communal areas and varying levels of support.

High-quality accommodation more desirable

With current life expectancy in the UK at 83 years old for women and 79 years old for men, we’re not only living longer but also working longer.

Many homeowners who want to “rightsize” as opposed to “downsize” may also still be working and looking for homes close to transport links and with all the facilities they need close by. At the moment, their choices are limited to staying in a family home that might be too big or no longer suitable for them, moving to retirement developments or into a care facility.

Having the option of choosing high-quality accommodation designed specifically for older people will in turn free up bigger homes for families, which are currently at a premium in the housing market.

Small sector with room for growth

With only 720,000 retirement housing units in England and Wales in 2017, the sector is small and has much scope to grow. But participants in the AJ panel discussion pointed to restrictive planning conditions hindered getting developments off the ground and suggested government intervention would be required.

The discussion did highlight positive moves within the sector, including responding to the needs of special interest groups to design homes around their requirements. Creating homes with lots of light and in-built flexibility makes the property more adaptable to changing needs, while offering communal areas increases a sense of community.

It’s clear from the AJ panel discussion that the needs of older homeowners are being considered within the design and development sectors. How that translates into providing more suitable homes remains to be seen.