Older people are the fastest growing demographic in the UK, and we are not ready. By 2035, the number of over-60s in London alone is expected to rise by 48%, and the over-80s group is set to increase by 70%. Assumptions that retirees will move (or can be moved) to the country are outdated: increasingly, older people are choosing to remain in cities.
This desire to stay in cities puts London’s older population into direction competition for housing and space with families, professionals and students. While the latter groups can be more asset poor, most can increase their income, something out of the question for most older people. How will they afford the housing they want, and as a sector, how can we afford to provide the amenities they need?
On 20 March, Future of London launched their report: Are we ready for the boom? Housing older Londoners. The report brings together findings from six months of research with project partners Arup, Barton Willmore, British Land and Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects. Research activities comprised roundtables, site visits, workshops with older people, case studies and a pan-London survey.
In all of this, it was vital to keep older people front and centre, as such, the launch kicked off with something a bit different: a film exploring older people’s experience of the built environment in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.
Ageing Cities launch event
Future of London’s Head of Leadership and Ageing Cities project lead, Nicola Mathers, then outlined key findings across the report’s three chapters:
- Planning and Policy: raising the profile of older people and addressing gaps
- Housing: fit-for-purpose products and better information
- Neighbourhoods: joined-up thinking for health, accessibility and inclusivity.
The report identifies challenges, best practice, innovation and practical recommendations for each section. While all components are vital for producing the age-friendly London we want and need, in the current climate, housing is arguably the most pressing concern.
As such, Nicola closed by outlining Future of London’s proposal for an older people’s housing manifesto (see below). Conceptualised during the research phase with input from diverse stakeholders, the manifesto would serve to connect the elements of the older peoples’ housing sector, raise its profile and establish a unified voice to influence plan-making and policy.
Speakers were invited to respond to the report findings. British Land’s Emma Cariaga, Head of Operations for Canada Water, began by highlighting that this challenge is personal for all of us: it’s in everyone’s interest to create a better London for ageing. High density urban environments, planned well, can help address social isolation and other limiting health issues: we need to foster social connections in mixed communities. There are clear social and economic benefits associated with intergenerational living. Developers, particularly at sites of scale such as Canada Water, have a key role to play in realising these.
Patrick Devlin, Partner and Third Age Housing lead at Pollard Thomas Edwards reflected on his experience of working with the pioneers behind the UK’s first senior co-housing development. Older Women’s CoHousing (OWCH) shows there is real demand for high quality housing developed and run by older people for themselves. The issue of the neglected middle market is significant: the pool of people unable to access social or high end senior housing is growing. We need the right legal, financial, procurement and planning frameworks to realise the full potential of a range of housing options for older people.
This point was picked up by Kathryn Ventham, Partner at Barton Willmore. At present, there is confusion around aspects of planning policy such as use classes C2/C3 and the lack of a clear offer from the older people’s housing sector. There needs to be better engagement between housing providers and planning authorities.
Barton Willmore have recently undertaken research into the wealth profile of our emerging older population, particularly seeking to understand the middle market. If we can get this right, providing good housing for our ageing population will be a significant step toward tackling the wider housing crisis.
Drawing on her experience working internationally as an Associate Director of Integrated City Planning at Arup, Sowmya Parthasarathy noted that older people face similar challenges to young people in cities. Drawing parallels with Arup’s work on urban childhoods, she made the case that neighbourhoods that accommodate people of all generations work best for all. Designers and developers of mixed-use places of work seem “obsessed” with millennials, but by 2020, a third of the working population will be over 50. We need to recognise older people’s contribution, now and in the future, and make designing for this demographic an outcome at all levels.
Karen Swift, Head of Housing Supply, Partnerships and Initiatives at LB Camden, closed with a positive: we should celebrate the fact that we are living longer! Local authorities have a vital advisory role in providing timely advice and information on housing options, and on aids and adaptations for those who choose to age in their own homes. As landowners, Karen suggested local authorities in London may have role to play in developing the elusive middle market product, one that can still cross subsidise affordable housing products.
A lively discussion followed with pertinent and interesting questions from the floor. Overwhelmingly, the discussion was around widening the general needs offer to incorporate older people’s needs and the importance of intergenerational communities. Good design practice was also shared, with the example of fold-down seats on residential houses in Italy and indoor “outdoor” spaces in homes.
Future of London’s report does not seek to prioritise these needs above the needs of other groups: this is about recognising that older needs have been neglected for too long. As the ageing population booms and London’s innately challenging context continues to stretch professionals across built environment disciplines, we hope the key message resonates: a good London for older people is a good London for all.
Download the reportAre we ready for the boom? Housing Older Londoners
Thank you to our partners