New report calls for sector to build more multigenerational neighbourhoods

A new report launched today (1st February) by the Agile Ageing Alliance (AAA), with support from Clarion Housing Group, urges the housing sector to step up and play its part in combatting the growing epidemic of loneliness through the delivery of more inventive and inclusive places.

Entitled ‘Cultivating Neighbourhoods that Care: A manifesto for change’, the report examines how the built environment can address loneliness in society through the creation of connected communities for residents of all ages.

Contributed to by age, health, care and design experts, policy makers and thought leaders, and drawing on perspectives and best practice from around the world, the report sets out how the housing sector can combat loneliness and mental health issues – among younger and older populations – and ease the associated burden of this on the health and social care system.

According to Lord Best, Chair of the UK’s Affordable Housing Commission: “The pandemic has made us even more aware how important community and intergenerational ties are to people, but it has also highlighted that loneliness is endemic in our society and it doesn’t just affect older people.  The housing sector has a real opportunity here to create the right environments that promote healthy ageing and enable people to be the best they can be throughout their lives.”

The report is informed in part by research undertaken at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, which looks at the cost of loneliness and its emergence as a public health concern.  The research found lonely people were 40 per cent more likely to make visits to their GP than those not suffering from loneliness and were more likely to suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.  The research concludes that in Great Britain alone there are estimated to be over 3.7 million people who feel lonely.  If we were to reduce the number of lonely people by 10 percent or 370,000 people, this would result in 518,000 fewer GP visits, and a significant reduction in burden to the health care system.

Central to the report is a call for new standards to drive the delivery of multigenerational living.  Initiated by AAA, in partnership with ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) Ageing Societies Technical Committee, the report is the by-product of two years of cross sector consultation towards development of the first ever internationally-recognised standard for ‘smart, multigenerational neighbourhoods’. 

This new standard will act as guidance for public, private and third sector stakeholders to drive this change at pace and scale.  Requirements and guidelines are likely to conclude:

  • Multigenerational living should be recognised in existing national and global development goals and embody the principles of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
  • Local planning processes should engage professionals across the sector and ensure collaboration, rather than a siloed approach
  • Age-friendly built environments should be prioritised in communities disproportionately impacted by poverty and life expectancies, to alleviate national disparities and level-up regions
  • Housing and communities should be designed to fit people’s varying functional levels, providing an optimal balance between effort and support so people can function well within their abilities
  • New housing projects should include public spaces, walkable routes and green spaces to facilitate engagement across all generations – this familiarity will also serve to combat ageism
  • Smart interoperable technologies should be seamlessly integrated into new developments, including provision of efficient broadband access to enable telehealth and remote learning, work and engagement as a means to facilitate greater independence and participation by residents of all ages and abilities in all aspects of society
  • Sustainability should be central in the creation of communities, including low carbon and low running costs
  • Amenities such as childcare and senior care facilities should be co-located to encourage intergenerational bonding

Ian Spero, founder of the Agile Ageing Alliance, said: “This report concludes that we should focus on constructing more age-friendly housing within multigenerational neighbourhoods. What’s missing is a commonly agreed view of “what good looks like”, making it hard for private, public and third sector stakeholders to plan. The quicker we can create and promote widely accepted best practice, the more confidence will increase and the faster the market will grow.”

Lord Best, chair of the UK’s Affordable Housing Commission and APPG on Housing and Care for Older People, said: “I am advocating, for example, a planning requirement on the oligopoly of major house builders to include some new homes specifically for those in later life, achieving a mix of ages within all larger developments. The APPG on Housing and Care for Older People wants to see hundreds of thousands more such homes, set within “multigenerational” communities – i.e. set within ordinary neighbourhoods.”

One of the key challenges is encouraging the UK’s housing sector to step up and build the homes and neighbourhoods to support healthy ageing and multigenerational living.  As a leading housing association at the forefront of the creation of new multigenerational communities, Clarion Housing Group has partnered with the AAA as part of its ongoing commitment to revitalising neighbourhoods and create sustainable, multigenerational homes and places. 

David Orr, chairman of Clarion Housing Association Board, said: “It’s clear that multigenerational living has benefits for individuals and society as a whole and should be seen as the norm in housing delivery going forward.  We are already working on creating environments where young and older people can live well together – this now needs to be delivered across the sector as a whole and a new ISO standard would help to achieve this.”