- Words by Kingspan Insulation
‘A child born today can expect to live to 100 years – so now we must seize the opportunity to improve the quality of lives lived longer and transform the way we think about our work, our housing, our health, our finances and our communities.’
These are the words of Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for the Department of Health and Social Care, speaking about the Industrial Strategy (ISCF) Grand Challenge for Ageing Society.
The government has committed more than £300 million to developing new technologies that will revolutionise the way we age and provide everyone with the best possible chance to grow old with dignity in their own home.
On the face of it, this is great news. But UK housing stock is not well adapted to older adults, and there are many mismatches between their needs and their environment.
According to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Britain’s housing ‘crisis’ is forcing the frail to live in dangerous conditions, with poor housing leading to an ‘increased need for social care’ and ‘avoidable hospital admissions’.
The need for better homes for older adults is echoed by architect Judith Torrington, author of Future of Ageing: adapting homes and neighbourhoods (Government Office for Science). Writing in the Agile Ageing Alliance’s (AAA’s) Neighbourhoods of the Future White Paper, Judith says: ‘Living in a supportive neighbourhood is beneficial to health, well-being and social connectivity. Large numbers of older people become invisible with advancing age, confined indoors by an unsupportive environment and/or physical disability.’
Earlier this year, the AAA published a second edition of Neighbourhoods of the Future. Commissioned by Tata Steel, the new report comes as the UK finds itself in a housing crisis. According to a year-long cross- party housing commission, launched in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, England needs 3 million new social homes by 2040, more than were built in the two decades after the end of the Second World War.
Bimlendra Jha, former Chief Executive Officer of Tata Steel UK, identified the magnitude of the challenge ahead: ‘In construction, housing is the single most important problem we currently face. At Tata, we regard this not only as a business opportunity, but also as part of our duty to try and do something better in the communities we serve.’
Speaking at the report’s launch, Lord Best, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People, said:
‘With a large, ready-made market that the unimaginative house building industry is failing to address, there are massive opportunities for creating homes for everyone. Government, local and central, stands to gain from incentivising and supporting a major growth in this fledgling sector, not least in collaboration with housing associations. But the tipping point – when “rightsizing” becomes the norm for those in their 60s and 70s – will arrive when a new generation of entrepreneurs take up the challenge. A market that is worth over £6 billion a year beckons. And with it comes the great prize that both older and younger generations can live in homes that make their lives better.’
According to Tata Steel Marketing Project Manager Matt Teague, Neighbourhoods of the Future is completely aligned with Tata Steel’s illustrious heritage:
At the same time as the creation of Tata Steel in 1907, a town grew up around the new steelworks at Jamshedpur. In a letter to his son Dorab, the founder of the Tata Group Jamshedji Tata outlined the following guiding principles for its layout and design:
‘Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches.’
Such a statement would not have been out of place coming from the pen of Ebenezer Howard, the father of the Garden Cities movement
in Britain, and demonstrates Tata’s appreciation that – even at a time of rapid industrialisation and population migration from the countryside into the cities and towns – the art of place making; providing a decent, sustainable and, above all, pleasant place for people to live and work, was key to the success of the enterprise as a whole.
In 2018 we can still take inspiration from Tata’s words, and recognise that not only do we face the same problems and challenges today, but also new ones.
In the western industrialised nations the potential negative impact of an ageing society and the so-called ‘demographic timebomb’ are becoming increasingly apparent.
There is an urgent need for a new approach to ageing, one where the knowledge, experience and capabilities of this significant part of the population can be employed (literally and metaphorically) to the advantage and well-being of the individual and wider society.
The world is ageing, particularly in advanced economies. Over the next 30 years, we will see an extra 15,000 people reach retirement age in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries every single day.
The basis of this approach starts in the home, a place where a person so enabled, can live, work and play without impediments imposed on them by their environment. Well-designed spaces coupled with augmented systems and ‘smart’ services, which have been tailored to the needs of the recipient, are the starting point of a cradle-to-grave approach to housing design where, as the needs of the occupant change over time, the space can adapt with minimal disruption, thus reducing the need for a person to move, and in turn strengthening the building of and continuity of the ‘neighbourhood’.
The first Neighbourhoods of the Future white paper set out a manifesto for change and described some of the products, services and, notably, housing designs that could bring about the required paradigm shift in our attitudes and approach to ageing. It seemed like a natural progression to suggest that Neighbourhoods of the Future (2019) should serve as a blueprint for realising the built expression of that change: a Home for Life.
In this spirit we have collaborated with the AAA to produce Neighbourhoods of the Future – a blueprint for the creation of truly intergenerational spaces. This document can be downloaded here.
‘In a free enterprise the community is not just another stakeholder in business, but is, in fact, the very purpose of its existence’
Neighbourhoods of the Future includes a section dedicated to the global challenge, produced in partnership with the Grosvenor Group. According to Chief Executive Mark Preston:
‘The world is ageing, particularly in advanced economies. Over the next 30 years, we will see an extra 15,000 people reach retirement age in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries every single day.
‘By 2045 the proportion of the population aged over 65 will rise to 25 per cent, from the current 16 per cent. This equates to 146 million more older adults than there are today – totalling 1.4 billion globally. ‘This demographic shift is set to have a profound impact on society and the social fabric of cities. By 2030 all major urban centres in the OECD will see a sharp increase in the number of older people. These cities will need to adapt and develop a number of short and longer-term strategies to ensure they respond adequately to both the challenges and opportunities that an ageing society presents.
‘For over 340 years, Grosvenor has been developing, managing and investing in properties and places. Whilst there is no silver bullet solution to what is a serious challenge and a defining one for generations to come, we hope that our insights from four diverse cities – Hong Kong, London, Madrid and Vancouver – will further the aims of this white paper by encouraging discussion and debate, involving and encouraging central and local authorities and other relevant stakeholders to work together in recognising the issue and prioritising its resolution.