My mother’s job provided my baby boomer parents with a home – so as they approached their retirement they needed to find somewhere new to live. Ah! I thought, the perfect spur to introduce the idea of them finding a home that would suit their needs all the way through to the end of their lives. As they get older it’s natural to want your parents to find a home that’s safe, comfortable, and most importantly, long term.
I barraged them with statistics on how important the right house is to one’s long-term health, and shared all the stories in my armoury about the cost of poor or inappropriate housing to the NHS and social care budgets. This would surely convince two rational people to purchase an appropriate home, maybe in a retirement village, or at least one that could be adapted to be safe to live in as their needs change.
Last year they bought a 17th Century former coaching inn in the Cotswolds. The ground floor alone is split across 5 levels, the historic staircase has irregular steps that seem to be willing someone to fall down them, and the bathrooms have steps into them, steps up into the showers and low ceilings and beams that will make them almost impossible to adapt. In other words, my parents couldn’t have picked a less practical home for older age if they’d set out on a mission to do so. It was lovely at Christmas though.
The fact is that my parents decided to buy something they wanted rather than what they will need in 10 years’ time – and fair play to them. My approach had ignored their aspirations, and was misguided. Their generation is at the stage of their lives where they are well within their rights to act with disdain for arguments that elevate the practical over the beautiful.
Cue a moment of reflection on how I speak to my parents, but also on how my colleagues and I at Baxendale spend our working hours helping housing providers to plan and fund older people’s housing.
Like much of the sector concerned with affordable housing, we were guilty of spending too long focusing on practical interventions at minimum immediate cost. We now spend much more time supporting clients to think about what their customers want as well as what they need – and then finding innovative ways to fund it and make it sustainable.
The penny dropped for me when speaking to the CEO of an extra care provider in the West of England that can boast a long waiting list across its sites. They predominantly provide homes for local authority funded residents, but that doesn’t stop them from researching in detail the aspirations of their customers before designing a new facility.
In one location this provider’s future customers told them that they wanted a swimming pool, not because they wanted to swim or even for the common reason that the grand-kids will use it, but because they had always aspired to live somewhere with a pool and wanted to achieve it before they died. So in went a pool and up went the waiting list.
My understanding is that the provider in question is effectively able to subsidise the quality of their homes, which sadly isn’t the case for most. But moving older people out of impractical or unsafe accommodation to locations which are adaptable, or able to offer services such as extra care, saves society substantial sums. So surely it’s worth finding ways to increase investment at other providers’ sites too, and make aspirational appropriate housing an option for older people across the socio-economic spectrum. It should be the must-have product for the baby boomer generation.
The good news is that the word is being spread by organisations such as Housing LIN who recently launched their ‘Spotlight on Extra Care’ video series documenting good practice and the need for outstanding levels of extra care housing nationwide.
If we don’t get this right the alternative is to neglect our older citizens, and condemn our NHS and social care services to constant crises caused by treating older people who should be living in beautiful, aspirational, safe homes.