A new era of accommodation for the Third Age

4 July 2013

McCarthy & Stone's art deco-inspired housing for baby boomers in Poole

The construction industry is embracing emerging trends in building for older people, with a focus on flexibility and affordability. Denise Chevin reports.

Forget long dark corridors, an abundance of brick and chintz. Housing for older people is getting a makeover. Developers are hoping to attract the baby boomers with modern, light and airy apartments, complete with oversized balconies and sited close to amenities and good transport links.

They are bidding to appeal to downsizers in their early 60s looking to release equity, who want “well spec’d” and generously proportioned living space that will still work for them in their dotage, but above all else, doesn’t scream “retirement and old age”. As Patrick Devlin, partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects, who is working on a number of these schemes, points out: “Many people aren’t actually going to be retiring.”

The provision of housing for the “silver slogger” generation is seen as a missing piece of the jigsaw of housing provision for the burgeoning older population, but is just one new aspect of a busy and rapidly changing sector.

As well as the startling demographic predictions (see below), society is having to grapple with how to fund housing and care provision to meet differing demands. Better and more appropriate design is required, along with creativity in funding.

A parliamentary report on the ageing society published in March, Ready for Ageing?, flagged up how “woefully under-prepared we are as a society”. The Lords committee that produced it focused on the implications of an ageing population for individuals and public policy between 2020 and 2030. Key projections it highlighted about ageing included:

And according to a report by Professor Michael Ball published by the University of Reading in May 2011, it is estimated that by 2033 there will be an extra 3.5 million households aged over 65, but at that time there were only 100,000 homes specifically for older people.

Berkeley’s flagship scheme at Kidbrooke, Greenwich, designed by PRP

The good news is that more specialist accommodation is coming through planning and is being built in a variety of forms: high-end residential care through to “extra care” (housing for independent living designed with facilities and support as an option) as well as age-restricted housing for “younger” older people. There are numerous variations in between. The numbers will also be boosted with funding from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), which was due to allocate £300m for schemes for specialist housing for older people at the end of June.

Housing for older people: a quick guide

Nursing home Older person accommodated in their own room with ensuite. Communal shared facilities. All meals provided and looked after. Highly regulated.

Extra care accommodation Apartment designed with wheelchair accessibility and more space. Often now in bigger developments of 150-plus units to provide enough scale for restaurant, laundry and a range of communal facilities such as a small gym. Often has a building manager or could be a care team on site. New way of giving people their independence and providing facilities to the community. Between 1,500 and 2,000 units are being built per year, according to the Housing Learning and Improvement Network.

Retirement village Provides full spectrum of accommodation types. Doctors’ surgery and health centre with different types of provision on the same site covers all kinds of care.

Co-housing Group of people come together to develop jointly owned scheme. Intention is that residents look after each other. In the scheme Co-housing Group of people come together to develop jointly owned scheme. Intention is that residents look after each other.

But as Anne-Marie Nicholson points out, investments are coming from all directions. She is a partner at PRP Architects, which is growing rapidly to accommodate all the projects it is winning in this area. It is working on 50 different schemes and has a 50-strong team specialising in housing for older people. “Investment is coming from all sorts of sources – for example, the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors – and charities and the private sector. Some of these new developments are replacing accommodation that is only 20 to 30 years old which the owners want to redevelop,” she says.

One of these developers is housing association Central & Cecil, which owns a number of sites in prime locations that would benefit from redevelopment. One of its schemes is for 21 serviced apartments in Wimbledon, south London.

Craig Crowley, project manager at Central & Cecil, says: “Historically we developed sheltered housing, care homes and extra care for older people, knowing they often buy at a time when their level of support need grows. We also want to attract those who are making a proactive choice to live somewhere flexible as they grow older. Between six and eight of the flats will be for shared ownership at 75% of the sale value.”

Subtle marketing

The trick for marketing these empty-nester schemes is to promote them as flexible accommodation for older people, to avoid scaring off those who aren’t quite ready yet for slippers and Scrabble tournaments.

David Birkbeck, chief executive of Design for Homes, says that developing what are often luxury flats for this demographic is attractive for developers because usually the buyers don’t need a mortgage and valuations are not knocked back by finance companies. According to research by Prudential Assurance in 2009, three-quarters of homeowners over the age of 65 have paid off their mortgages, and are sitting on £611bn of capital locked into their homes.

Caroline Dove, partner at architects HTA, which is also designing a range of different housing for older people, says the housing for baby boomers would normally meet Lifetime Homes standards. This means they have more floor and storage space than an average flat, and have features such as partition doors so that, for example, if a resident becomes bed bound, bedroom and living space can be opened up to make it more open plan.

All the ingredients of these principles were set out in a parliamentary report, the HAPPI (Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation) report, published in 2009, which called for a revolution in housing for the elderly. The report said that these homes should have “an appealing lifestyle vision”, so that the “younger old” empty-nesters aspire and plan ahead to move into them. This downsizing shift would then release their large family homes, often with big gardens, for more suitable occupation by families with children. Some 37% of all UK homes are under-occupied, the report revealed, with half of these – 3.3 million in total – held by those aged between 50 and 69. A second report was published in February 2013 showcasing examples of best practice.

The co-housing alternative

Pollard Thomas Edwards architects has won planning permission for its first venture into co-housing, where a group comes together to develop a jointly owned scheme.

The new-build scheme, developed for Hanover Housing Association and Older Women’s Co-Housing group (OWCH) with Housing for Women, is in Barnet, north London. The scheme will consist of 25 apartments, 17 of which will be for private sale and eight for rent.

The clients, 20 women aged between 55 and 80, were looking for a radically different approach to growing old, whereby they look after each other. “We put together a design process to coordinate their individual aspirations,” explains Patrick Devlin, director at PTEa.

However, while the new generation of extra care facilities being built on these principles would usually have facilities such as cafes and communal space, many developers are leaving them out. They say it’s because this new target audience doesn’t want them, but it’s also partly to make them stack up better financially. Communal areas take up a lot of space that would otherwise be used to build more flats.

The HCA’s new £300m fund aside, housing associations are having to develop without grants, with many scaling up the number of homes they develop for sale, to subsidise the provision of affordable housing. For example, Hanover Housing Group, which specialises in housing for older people, plans to build about 1,250 units over the next five years, of which 900 will be for sale.

Bruce Moore, Hanover’s chief executive, says it has switched all its developments from extra care to a downsizer offer. One of these is the co-housing development in Barnet (see box, page 22). “People have been going from general housing into care and then nursing homes. This fills a gap in the market. But the need is so huge there is plenty of room for different offers,” Moore says.

McCarthy & Stone, which currently has 60-70% of the market for the provision of older people’s housing for sale, has also launched its first foray for “younger” older people. At the moment, its two product types attract people in their late 70s and early 80s.

Expanding provision

The firm currently builds about 1,700 homes a year, but wants to double that number within five years, says head of public affairs, Paul Teverson. As well as providing for the younger end, it also wants to provide a full care spectrum.

Its new development for the downsizers is a 12-storey block in Poole, Dorset, designed to echo the art deco influences of other buildings in the area. “It will be age restricted, but will have a concierge and probably fewer communal areas,” Teverson says. It has been designed by award-winning modernist architect Glenn Howells, and will have a four- to five-storey assisted living block alongside.

McCarthy & Stone builds all its own developments and has now taken the management of its buildings in-house too.

Traditional residential care homes appear to be off the menu and are being replaced with extra care schemes. Many local authorities have been doing this, or are looking to see how they can do this. This change is driven by current guidelines, which emphasise independent living as a better option for older people rather than care homes; in addition, local authorities have to pay for care provision out of the social services pot – with extra care, residents are allowed to claim housing benefit.

Debbie Waldron, care sector manager for Willmott Dixon, says that growth for the company has come on the back of more extra care provision and it is working with local authorities on how to redevelop outdated residential care. However, despite the obvious need for more accommodation, she says fewer housing associations are providing extra care because of funding difficulties.

One new player in the market is Berkeley Homes, whose chairman Tony Pidgley was involved with the HAPPI report. It developed a 170-unit block for older people on its Kidbrooke Regeneration scheme near Greenwich, London, designed by PRP. It has now been handed over to Viridian housing association.

Increasingly, housing schemes for older people are being seen as good to have at the heart of regeneration projects, because having older residents also provides customers for local businesses and facilities within the developments, such as hairdressers and cafes. This, in turn, makes the provision of these services more viable.

Saxon Weald housing association, which is working with Berkeley at its development in Horsham, West Sussex, hopes to get planning consent in July and will be handing over a number of units as part of the section 106 agreement. Mark Crosby, business development director at Saxon Weald, says: “Section 106 agreements tended to focus on general needs, but meeting a demand locally can free-up housing and release other accommodation and provide alternatives for older people living in under-occupied homes.”

James Wallace, a director at architects Hunter & Partners, says: “What’s happened is that the recession has allowed the care sector to come back because we can build homes at lower cost. Before, we might have been talking about £1,700 per sq m, now that can be down to £1,000 per sq m.”


Third Age housing: insights from contractors

David Brill MCIOB, director responsible for design and build, Stepnell

We’ve mostly been involved with top-end retirement living in private sector provision and we’ve also built a cottage hospital and doctors’ surgeries. From that we went into care home provision. We’re now doing our first project in the social sector with Sanctuary Housing Group, a £15m scheme in Worcester which includes a 60-bed care home, 40 extra care apartments and 40 retirement flats.

We’re due to start on site in September and are looking at off-site manufacture. We are expecting it to be the first site to use project insurance, which is one of the new procurement systems being trialled by the government to improve collaboration.

Karen Whitehead, director of care sector, GB Building Solutions

We’re seeing a rise in care-related opportunities, including some schemes that had stalled. The growth is related to the projected increase in the number of older people in the future. We are aware that there is a projected shortfall of care beds which is estimated to be 60,000-70,000 by 2019.

We are working on eight care schemes, a combination of design and build, and development. On one scheme we were involved during the concept stage. This is a 60-bedroom care home for Cumbria County Council for people with dementia. The architect was Alston Murphy of Newcastle.

The home has been designed on a household model, with five households of 12 bedrooms. The building was designed on two storeys, but 36 of the 60 bedrooms have been placed on the ground floor, each with direct access to the gardens. Large balconies have been included on the first floor so that the people living there have easy access to the outdoors.

Each household has its own living and dining areas, including a kitchen. Other facilities include a salon, treatment area, and a laundrette for residents to use. The care home also includes a smoking room.

The garden includes a greenhouse and allotment beds, an area for chickens, and shaded areas for relaxing. Speed is of the essence as it has to be built in just 52 weeks.

The 60-bedroom care home for Cumbria County Council

Debbie Waldron, care sector manager, Willmott Dixon

Our turnover has grown to £100m from £40m three years ago. The biggest growth for us has been the provision of extra care and we have been working closely with local authorities looking to replace residential care homes with extra care.

One of our new initiatives is to try to facilitate the use of our Sunesis model, which is an off-the-shelf pattern book based on a lightweight steel frame, for the care home sector. Sunesis is a joint venture between Scape System Build and Willmott Dixon Construction and focuses on delivering standard whole building designs to a fixed turnkey cost.

It was originally developed for the schools sector where we have signed a number of contracts. The idea behind this is that clients will choose from a menu of options; we will be able to offer a fixed price.

The main bonus is that it drastically cuts procurement time and takes just 45 weeks to build a 60-apartment extra care scheme. A lot of clients are needing to develop quickly. South Staffordshire  is looking at two schemes on two sites and Housing 21 is also considering it. We are also looking at whether it can be configured for care homes.

The model has been endorsed by Jeremy Porteus, director of the Housing Learning and Improvement Network, and one of the drivers of HAPPI housing standards.

Generous balconies are more common in homes for older people, as shown at Oak Tree House in Reading, by HTA Architects, an extra care housing scheme by Willmott Dixon

Richard Cornes, partnerships director, William Davis, Loughborough

Most elderly persons’ accommodation being constructed at present is extra care. We are still seeing a significantly reduced number of schemes for outright market sale. The majority of extra care properties tend to be relatively low rise (four storey max) often with a single-storey section for the centre to allow that to have high, open ceilings and often a lot of glazing. However, one of our projects has bucked this trend. In Leicester we have converted a 10-storey landmark art deco warehouse, the Wolsey Building, for Asra Housing Group.

The schemes we work on come through various procurement routes. Many of them are design-and-build tenders. Given the size of the sites needed, their locations and the values they generate, many are brought forward on local authority-owned land with their support. We have been asked to get involved with some of these schemes at an early stage and hence the price is negotiated on the basis of past tenders and other market rates.

Darren Welch, head of supported living sector, Leadbitter Group

Leadbitter has been in the care sector for many years, working for both public and private sector clients. The schemes are often complicated due to the high degree of stakeholder engagement or involvement. Successful contractors in this sector need to truly understand the needs of residents, operators and the facilities required.

There are many technical requirements particular to building care homes and extra care accommodation. They are heavily serviced buildings, often with a lot of smart technology, so detailing is important. Level access is required throughout these developments internally and externally allowing residents to move in and out of bathrooms and on to patios and balconies freely without hazard.

While many developments are at the luxury end of the market, due to the reduction in grant funding, we have seen more value engineering required on public sector schemes, particularly in common areas within the facility.

Traditional construction techniques are often preferred to timber frame due to the shrinkage and movement caused by the high levels of heating in these developments.

Leadbitter's Foxbridge House in Kent is typical of today's modern care homes


May I have permission to use this image in a presentation? I need an image to represent the ideal situation for long-term care nursing home rooms

Thank you for your consideration
Deb Patterson Burdsall PhD, RN-BC, CIC, FAPIC
Infection Preventionist

Deb Burdsall, 7 March 2018

Leave a comment