Woodside Square: design and downsizing

Friday the 8th of December found us on site at Woodside Square, Muswell Hill. The development is a joint venture partnership between Hanover and Hill, designed by architects Pollard Thomas Edwards.

Hanover specialise in homes for the over 55s, seeking to promote downsizing by offering quality alternatives. In London, 54% of older homeowners and 16% of renters are under-occupying by two or more bedrooms. A recent report from Savills noted that there is little inclination for our current demographic of equity-rich, home-owning older people to incur the disruption of moving without a strong incentive. Hanover’s Downsizer Homes seek to tackle these challenges by offering something different: developments with additional services and features.

The Woodside Square development comes with significant “pull” factors. All of the development’s 159 homes have either a balcony or terrace, access to an onsite concierge, communal gardens and tennis courts. Located on the former site of St. Luke’s psychiatric hospital, homes are predominantly new build, but the Grade II listed administration building and two locally listed buildings to the south speak to the area’s heritage. The new build units reference Muswell Hill’s Arts and Crafts style while offering modern finishes.

The residential mix comprises 35 homes for affordable rent, 13 shared ownership and 111 homes for private sale. The homes range in size from 1 bed flats to large 4 bed houses. Approximately 70% of the development is age-restricted for the over 55’s and 10% is built to wheelchair standards.

The scheme originally featured a co-housing element, Woodside Grove was co-designed with the resident group. Unfortunately, sufficient finances could not be realised for the project, but some members did later buy on site. The legacy of the co-design process is a common room, now available for private hire to all residents. Yoga, music and community meetings are popular uses. The space also features a guest suite, providing accommodation for visiting friends and family.

Woodside Square’s design is underpinned by principles from the HAPPI report. Patrick Devlin, coordinator of the HAPPI report and a partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards, was on hand to explain to the group:

  • Access to outside space is really important to older people, a balcony or a terrace can make a big difference.
  • Gardens can become a source of frustration as people age and are less able to tend to them. Woodside Square offers landscaped surroundings which can be enjoyed without exertion.
  • Natural light, known to reduce strain on the eyes, is maximised through generous windows.
  • Woodside Square exceeds current space standards. Large utility cupboards and wardrobes provide plenty of storage, wide corridors can accommodate wheelchair access, should it be needed. The bathrooms feature level access to showers and turning space for wheelchairs. Spacious rooms are designed to accommodate people’s existing furniture.
  • Interaction has also been designed into the development. The entrance to the car park is positioned to encourage residents to take routes around their neighbourhood on the way home. A route between the northern end of the site and Muswell Hill encourages integration with the wider area.

Woodside Square is Hanover’s first development to include non-age-restricted homes. Haringey Council has nominated under-occupying social tenants of all ages to move in. Here, transitions have in some cases been less than smooth. Despite the security of tenure offered by Hanover, some tenants perceive the offer to be a smaller home and a less secure tenancy for more money. Other residents are reluctant to leave their existing communities in other parts of the borough. Hanover are working with Haringey to move couples and families who know each other in pairs.

Construction started in 2015 and is due to complete in early 2018. It’s too early for a post occupancy survey but anecdotal evidence is that the scheme is meeting its goals. Something of a ready-made community has moved in, with many private residents moving in from larger homes in the surrounding area. For some, committing to a new property asset has been a long journey, others were happy to buy off-plan.

That so many private buyers are choosing to move in from the surrounding area speaks to the draw of purpose designed homes for older people. Downsizing benefits all: larger homes become free for families moving into or expanding within Haringey, the downsizers get something built with their needs in mind.

This comes at cost, one bed flats start at £575,000, with 4 bed homes going for £2,000,000. Sales from these private homes are maximised to boost affordable development.Hanover have a strong social remit, and in the process of developing Woodside Square have disproved a pervasive property myth. There is a presumption that “pepper potting” social homes amidst private units reduces the value of the for-sale homes. There is no evidence for this, and when cautioned against pepper-potting, Hanover and PTE decided to push on. No discernible impact on for-sale value as a result of pepper-potting has materialised: myth dispersed!

With social tenants and equity-rich private buyers well catered for by the development, this does still raise the question – what about everyone else? In line with findings from our roundtable, the middle market (the vast and diverse consumer group of older people seeking housing between sheltered and high-end) is being neglected by the sector at large. The income of middle market consumers puts them above the threshold for state support. Simultaneously, they cannot afford homes with the age-conscious features of Woodside Square independently on the open market.

Developments such as Woodside Square can lead the way: showing what well designed, adaptation-ready homes could be, but the metrics that make this viable for everyone are elusive.