Silver Society: Designing for the new old age.

Updated: Sep 10, 2019

The ‘Young‐Old’ are a generational phenomenon. Over the past 60 years, medicine, healthcare services, and economic development have contributed to a sustained rise in life expectancy that means baby boomers in economically developed countries are now considered ‘middle‐aged’ into their seventies.(i) Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that on average, 65 year‐olds can expect to live for another 18.6 years if male, and 20.9 years if female.(ii) When the average age of retirement is between 63 and 65, how do we make the best of the additional years and what does it impact?

How to make the best of these additional years?

Recent figures reported by Nationwide reveal a shortage of family homes that has arisen as a result of more than two thirds of older home owners staying in multiple-bedroom properties long after the children have grown up and moved away. But would these home owners be so reluctant to leave their family homes if there were attractive and viable options to downsize? My parents’ generation may no longer need two or more spare bedrooms, but neither are they ready for a remote countryside retirement village or an urban care home. They still work (part-time), still travel and socialise, still decorate and upkeep their home, still enjoy hobbies such as gardening, painting, or sport. Providers such as Pegasus Life and Audley are gaining momentum with apartments or duplexes on attractive sites with links to a range of amenities for private sale to the over-55’s. But these target the luxury end of the market rather than the majority, who would be unable to afford even the smallest offering.

Assets and earnings bring about another challenge: can the average young‐old afford a ‘golden retirement’ when it now needs to last for 18‐20 years? For those on average salaries, the realisation that their pension must work harder for longer adds further pressure to working life because contributions may not be enough to sustain them. The traditional pensionable age no longer fits its’ demographic because an increased life expectancy infers the ‘age’ of ageing is pushed back. When 65 is the new 55, what are those who are fit, active, and involved meant to do with their time if they either don’t wish to stop working or can’t afford to? Indeed, many British and Americans of traditional retiring age are staying in employment or even returning to work after ‘retiring’.

However, there are other benefits to staying in work longer beyond financial prudence. We need to feel needed, and studies from around the world prove a correlation between a persons’ sense of purpose and engagement with their physical health, mental health and happiness. As well as financial gains, continuing with work even on a part‐time basis maintains a connection with and contribution to society. Learning from the Japanese, more can be done to find convincing roles for older people in British society.

Still more to give: research has shown that bringing the young and the elderly together benefits both mentally and physically.

An experienced and successful provider of work opportunities to its older citizens, Japan has established over 1600 ‘Silver Centres’ across the country since the 1970s.(iv) The Silver Human Resources Centres aim to ‘support meaningful and fulfilling lifestyles’ for those over 60 who wish to still earn. Types of work available include delivering meals on wheels, garden maintenance, housekeeping services, office admin, and childcare, as well as roles requiring more technical or specialised knowledge. Many centres also offer additional training to members should they wish to try something new.

The opportunities arising out of the Young‐old housing and care markets are evident and growing as the ageing population increases. Whilst existing care homes continue to be beset by funding and staffing problems, they are perceived as unfit for purpose and generally a last resort. However, a home environment that is suited to the demands of ageing has also been proven to reduce both NHS and private or social care costs, and even postpone the need for a person to enter residential care.(v) The 'extra‐care’ model where private flats are sold with options to buy add‐on care or help in the home as required enables people to stay independent and be with their partners and friends for longer and is already proving popular in other European countries.(vi) ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, a documentary series aired on Channel 4 last year, demonstrates how the youngest and the oldest benefit from each other’s company when spending regular time together. Intergenerational Practice is becoming more common and in London, the Apples and Honey Nightingale Pre‐school has been built in the grounds of a care home so that children and elderly enjoy daily sessions together covering areas such as art and design, exercise, or culture and religion.(vii)

Our new model for mixed Young-Old and elderly communities in towns and cities that share social and health facilities.

It’s time to re‐design what later life looks like. ‘Downsizing’ needs to be an attractive option: smaller sites close to friends and family, convenient for work, and accessible to amenities and recreation; apartments or smaller houses that still provide enough space for hobbies, entertaining, having the grandchildren to stay, or working from home. For care homes, in addition to better social spaces and facilities, interaction between nurseries, parent and toddler groups, or children’s centres undoubtedly benefit both generations.(viii)

Shared facilities bring residents of both private fl ats and the care home together, and potentially other older people who live close by.

At Colwyn Foulkes, we are looking for opportunities to address this. We are developing a model aimed at smaller urban or suburban sites for independent private apartments and a small care home to be built together, sharing facilities such as a restaurant, gym or spa, and garden or allotment. Care and support to assist residents in both is arranged as needed. There is potential for a proportion of the apartments and care home rooms to provide social housing, and access to shared facilities for other older people in the local community. Focussing on spacious design, accessibility, and connection to private and shared outdoor spaces and amenities, the aim is to avoid ‘institutional’ and instead promote community, quality, and choice.

The ‘Young‐old’ have created a gap in the market and new housing needs to recognise and address their aspirations. Getting old does not have to be a ghostly spectre lurking on the horizon – it can be designed, built, and enjoyed by all.

By Anna Beer 

Architect at Colwyn Foulkes Ltd

(i) Financial Times ‘Life begins at 60: The rise of the ‘Young‐Old’ Society’,

3rd May 2019

(ii) p2, National Life Tables, UK: 2016‐2017 (update published in September 2019) Office for National Statistics

(iii) Evening Standard ‘Over 65s in big homes blocking housing ladder for young buyers’, 31st July 2019

(iv) International Longevity Centre Japan

(v) Kerlsake A, Stilwell P (2004), What makes older people choose residential care and are there alternatives? Institute of Public Care in housing, Care and Support Journal, Pavillion

(vi) Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation (2009) HAPPI 1 : Housing our Ageing Population Case Studies vii Nightingale Hammerson (2018) Building relationships: the case of the co‐located nursery

(viii) United for all Ages report, Apples and Honey Nightingale CIC intergenerational nursery

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