‘Rethinking housing’ for an ageing population

By Lee Sugden, chief executive at Salix Homes 

‘Luxurious homes, stunning locations and intelligent design’.

Sound great doesn’t it?

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the glossy brochures from the private developers peddling ‘exclusive retirement living’ for the over 55s.

But what would that brochure look like in the social housing sector?

‘Dated communal facilities, poky corridors and your very own bedsit’. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it?

Okay, so I may be exaggerating a little here, but the fact of the matter is that if you’re not lucky enough to be able to afford the private sector when you reach your twilight years, then in the main, the only option is sheltered housing, which quite frankly is no longer fit for purpose.

The retirees of yesterday are not the same as the retirees of tomorrow. Or today for that matter.

The emerging generation of new-age pensioners don’t want bingo halls, fish suppers and a shampoo and set every Friday. And they certainly don’t want to live in sheltered accommodation reminiscent of a nursing home. 

The majority of older people do want to ‘downsize’ to a more manageable home, but we can’t expect to tempt them out of their three and four-bedroom houses with our current offering.

We need to develop an attractive proposition for older people who no longer need that big house. Somewhere they can enjoy a long, active, healthy and independent retirement that better meets their needs and aspirations at this stage of their lives.

In turn, this will free up the much-needed family homes that society is crying out for.

Housing has a finite lifespan and I predict the majority of today’s sheltered housing only has another 10-15 years left. It might sound drastic, but the solution may be knocking it down and starting again with accommodation that is fit for the future and will give us another 60 years of provision that people actually want.

There are some excellent examples of sheltered housing out there that is well equipped to stand the test of time, but generally, this type of accommodation is becoming increasingly hard to let.

There’s around 50 sheltered housing complexes in Salford alone, seven of which are owned by Salix Homes. They are well managed, clean, in good locations, yet for the first time in our history, our waiting list for these types of properties has all but depleted. This should not be happening during a time of housing crisis when homes are in such short supply. Clearly, the model is no longer fit for purpose.

We have already decommissioned one of our sheltered housing sites and are in the process of repurposing it into 26 general needs properties.

By 2050, one in every four people will be over 65. And one in every six people alive today will live to be 100. Compare that to the 15,000 centennials alive today and it puts into perspective the ageing person challenge.

This is a business critical issue for the social housing sector – one that I don’t believe is being addressed in the wider strategies for an ageing population. 

Retirement living in the social housing sector should be something to be desired not dismissed and it’s time for us, as an industry, to rethink how we do things in order to provide homes for a new generation of retirees who are expecting something different.

It’s a challenge, but with challenges come opportunities, and rethinking retirement living presents our opportunity to work collaboratively with the health sector to develop future-proof homes, that are not only desirable, but will also enable people to live independently for longer and reduce pressures on the NHS.

I only have to look out of my window in Salford to see high quality, high spec apartments dominating the horizon, but rather than just being the reveries of young professionals and new millennials, why not make apartment living an attractive and viable proposition for the next generation of retirees? 

It certainly works for the private sector, so why can’t there be a similar offer for people in social housing that better meets the needs of that same generation?

The world is changing, people are changing and social housing for the older generation needs to change too. Who’s with us?