Meeting the needs of a new generation of older people
By Jane Barker, Managing Director, Liberty Retirement Living
Our population is ageing fast. There are now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are under 18 and in the next 17 years, the number of people aged 65 and over is projected to rise by more than 40%.
To meet the needs of our growing older generation, we need to change the way we plan our cities, towns and villages, including paving the way for new retirement villages.
Talk of the housing crisis and its impact is usually focused on first time buyers and families but there is very little provision for older people too and that needs to change. Developing retirement properties that can meet the changing needs of the elderly will make a positive contribution to the wider housing market as well as local communities. This will however, require a better understanding of our older generation and their aspirations.
The over 55s are a huge group made up of different generations with different expectations and aspirations. However, one thing they all have in common as that they don’t consider themselves old. In fact, research suggests that people tend to see themselves as 15 years younger than their age.
That means both the building and service offering at a retirement village must target a younger market, including offering contemporary homes that are easy to look after. Most importantly however, the properties must still feel like home.
At a recent focus group we held, attendees told us that they didn’t want to live in organised communities with lots of scheduled activities which feel more like a holiday camp than home. They want a smaller and homelier environment that’s not impersonal with a selection of more targeted facilities and services.
A bar for example would be welcomed, but older people don’t want their life organising or to change dramatically. They still want to go out and eat at their favourite restaurants, see the same hairdressers and be close to the amenities that they’re used to, so these aren’t a priority on a development. And although they may not like to admit they may need care and support in their later years, the comfort blanket of a 24-hour presence onsite is an important consideration.
Ticking these boxes means that retirement developments must be carefully located in areas where residents can still easily access the people, facilities and amenities they’re used to. The environment must also feel secure but not disconnected from local communities.
At a local level, achieving this and getting these schemes off the ground will require local authority buy in. We need local councils to free up more land for retirement villages and promote them as positive additions to both local communities and the rest of the housing market as they will play a vital role in freeing up other properties.
As these developments are targeted at a restricted group with far higher levels of internal and external infrastructure, I would make a plea to create a specific planning use class to offer similar benefits to C2, but also to remove uncertainty and inconsistency at a local level.
Furthermore on a national scale, I think that Government should abolish stamp duty for those buying in a retirement village removing another major blocker for those seeking to move into a more suitable home.
These changes won’t happen overnight but as our older population continues to expand at our rapid rate, we need to act now.
Designed and located correctly, retirement developments have the potential to meet the needs of a huge group of people who currently are not considered in the housing debate. If we can meet the expectations and future demands of the older generation, we can not only ensure they have the home and lifestyle they deserve, but unlock a vital part of the solution that could help address the housing crisis.