- Words by Simon Harding-Roots
London is a young and fast-moving city but that does not mean it cannot be a city for older people.
Much of the negative language that is attached to the notion of an ageing population is both surprising and frustrating. People are not geriatric at the age of 60 or 70, and many will look forward to as many as 20 years of a really active lifestyle, taking advantage of transport, culture and leisure.
The ‘silver surfer’ generation is an exciting demographic and it means that what we have in London and in the real estate sector is a huge opportunity, especially in a country that does not have a strong culture of keeping older adults within the family unit.
We need to move away from the idea that the only option is for the elderly to go into a care or rest home when, in fact, most older people in London, as much as elsewhere, wish to remain independent.
The challenge is that many older Londoners are living alone in the family four-bedroomed home that they raised their family in, but which is unlikely to be suitable for an older person.
There is a strong opportunity for us as an industry to focus on building communities made up of homes for rent that will meet the needs of all demographics and not just the 25- to 35-year-olds whose faces often adorn modern development hoardings.
There is currently an acute lack of the type of accommodation in London that suits all ages. Developers need to capture those elements of a home that older people particularly value, whether that is spacious rooms, wider corridors, storage areas, or some outside space.
Including a range of different sized blocks and building with flexibility into a development so the units can be adapted later on is a very cost-efficient way of accommodating residents’ future needs.
74% of older adults move to places within 100 km (or 1 hr – 1.5 hr train ride) of Central London
Developers should also look to include more public amenities such as ground level open spaces within a proposed new community in order to make it more attractive to the older occupier.
Grosvenor hopes to put this into practice in Bermondsey, south-east London, where we have drawn up a masterplan for a mixed use community of 1,500 flats with office, retail and community space. Building for rent means the apartments will typically come with facilities and features such as two standard sized bedrooms and two bathrooms unlike much of London’s older stock where there will often be small ‘box’ rooms as part of the accommodation offer.
This takes into account that it is increasingly common for individuals of all ages to share homes, making living in London more affordable. New developments designed with this in mind are more appealing to people who fear being priced out of London. Technology integrated within the very fabric of new buildings will also become an important feature for the increasing tech-savvy older generation.
Renting should be seen as a functional way of life that offers flexibility where people might start off in a studio and work their way through the different types of property but within the same development, enabling people to remain in their chosen communities for longer. It can also provide a positive alternative to retrofitting large older houses, which are in demand from families.
Tax incentives could play an important role in encouraging older homeowners to sell an oversized family home and so free up housing stock, and for modern regeneration aimed at diverse and integrated communities. A financial incentive to sell, and an exemption from Stamp Duty when buying, could be very beneficial.
The good news is that London has made significant strides to make the city more accessible, not just for older adults but for everyone who needs help with mobility, including the disabled and parents with buggies. Whether it is way-finding signage, free public transport, pedestrian zones, dropped kerbs, supermarket deliveries and even taxis at the touch of an App, it makes for a friendlier city for everybody.
If we get this right, London will be a more integrated city. With people living for longer in places they are happy in.