Darren Heffer, Director, Saunders Boston Architects
The purpose of every building, and the people, or industries they serve, requires a variety of different considerations by the architects behind them. However, whether a design should simply fit a purpose, keeping costs low for future inhabitants; create an engaging environment, to encourage learning; or incorporate special design features, to enable a safe and secure space – attention to detail should never be sacrificed. And the most important detail of every design should be the people that will inhabit it and building a sense of community in the space too – especially when it comes to extra care housing.
There are a variety of mandatory guidelines for extra care housing that ensure enough consideration is given to the specific design elements needed to provide quality housing for elderly people – a group that can be overlooked in many areas of society. However, good design does not stop at box ticking these guidelines – this approach can result in buildings having an institutional feel. While extra care homes must be created in line with guidelines to ensure they are functional and physically safe environments, design elements that encourage mental wellbeing, such as communal areas, are equally important – in fact, for this specific age group, they are vital in ensuring that residents are not left feeling isolated or lonely.
A sense of community is essential to the quality of life of residents in extra care homes, and this is something that Saunders Boston Architects takes very seriously when considering the design of these buildings. We allow the community we are designing for to influence the actual design wherever possible; helping us consider elements such as the grouping and layout of apartments, circulation areas where residents will naturally encounter one another, communal facilities, sensory gardens, potting sheds, or allotments spaces. Such consideration helps us go one step further in our design, and is one of the reasons we were recently awarded bronze at the National Housing for Older People Awards for our design of Reynolds Court, a new build sheltered housing project in Newport.
Having been involved in designing extra care housing for over 25 years, I’ve seen a variety of positive changes within the specific area of our industry; for example, simply by increasing awareness of the things that have a positive or negative impact on health and wellbeing, more consideration has been given to the aesthetics instead of just function. Advancements in technology and design technique are also allowing increasingly future-proofed buildings with adaptive layouts; ensuring that residents benefit from a sense of personalisation and pride of place. While these are all positive changes, there’s much more that can be done.
Compared to other countries, the UK has an extremely low percentage of its elderly population housed in age-appropriate accommodation. This could be explained by the lack of national targets in place regarding housing for elderly people, the problematic planning regulations that can lead to long and unnecessary negotiations, and the limited areas of public land available for such use. While these are significant issues, industries are now coming together to better the future of care for elderly people. The Housing LIN, of which I was recently appointed Regional Joint Chair, is uniting the housing, health and social care industries across England, Wales and Scotland in order to exemplify and encourage innovative care housing solutions – such collaboration means that we will be able to lead by example. It’s essential that the infrastructure of care housing changes to one that reflects community, pride, and wellbeing, and the only way that we can do that, is to design such buildings. Through the Housing LIN, and our expertise at Saunders Boston Architects, we will be able to bring together the various industries that provide for the elderly in order to unify our common goal: to ensure the best quality in social care, housing and, ultimately, quality of life.
Author bio: Darren has over 20 years’ architectural experience in the Residential and Retirement Living & Care sectors. Based in Cambridge, he leads a specialist Architectural and Interior Design team in delivering projects nationally for both privately and publicly funded clients. https://www.saundersboston.co.uk/