I was intrigued by an article in The Guardian on “co-housing” for older people.
It’s an idea I’d like to think I’d invented in my head: a place that’s a bit more communal than sheltered accommodation but certainly not a dreaded “old people’s home”. Of course, I didn’t invent it because it’s common in other countries, and there are some rather upmarket instances of it in the UK already.
Co-housing simply means that older people with similar interests have their own private homes within a communal development, where there are shared services and sometimes medical or recreational facilities, and where the accommodation can adapt as the individual’s needs change with advancing age.
This arrangement is not unknown in Britain. Round my way there are several old country houses that have been turned into clubhouses with restaurant, beauty parlour and sports facilities serving the retired residents of the bungalows that have been built in the grounds. They are definitely an upmarket and expensive retirement option, but rather nice if you have the money.
What about the less well-heeled, though? How could they enjoy the benefits of co-housing? The problem is, of course, the huge cost of property and land in the UK. Where could you build such a development to suit more modest pockets?
Furthermore, while a rural idyll sounds appealing, it might not suit those used to living in the inner city for the past six or more decades.
So, then I thought: what about tower blocks?
In the cities tower blocks have fallen out of favour for families, whose children have nowhere to play while their parents cook their dinner, where mothers struggle up stairs with pushchairs because the lifts have been vandalised, and where walkways are frightening places where youths loiter and drug paraphernalia is abandoned.
But wouldn’t a tower block in an inner city be an ideal place to house the elderly? They could still have their own front door – to a flat – and keep their independence. But in a dedicated “co-housing” block their neighbours would not be rowdy youths or crying babies, but people just like them with whom they could socialise or not as they pleased. A ground floor space could provide a common room for those who wanted to socialise; a room could be set aside where a visiting doctor could hold a clinic, or a hairdresser could visit those who did not want or were unable to venture to a salon.
There would be no gardens for the elderly person to maintain, as there are with bungalows, although there could be an outside space where residents could take the air. There could even be balconies on some floors.
Lifts would be much less likely to be vandalised, so the risk of all of them being out of service at once would be minimal. Meals on wheels, prescription deliveries and other services required by older folk would be easier because they could be done in bulk by the service providers.
Say farewell to five minute visits from carers who need to travel miles between each client they visit in their scattered “own homes”. Their clients would be clustered together
Nearby transport links would also make it easier for visitors to drop in and for the more mobile to get out.
Dear local councils, please don’t blow up your tower blocks, but consider making them into retirement communities for your older residents.