How Do We Futureproof Sheltered Housing? (July 2013)

Another very interesting blog by Matthew Gardiner, CEO of Trafford Housing Trust, this time on the subject of our ageing population

We have an ageing population and many of the homes they are living in are showing their age too. Sheltered housing was very often a creation of the 1970s and now as those homes approach their own pensionable age the emergence of a generation gap is becoming obvious for all to see.

What would sheltered housing look like in the Metropolis of the future?

What is to be done with this form of housing? At its best, it provides a safe, lively and companionable place to live where independence of residents is maintained. At its worst, it provides sub-standard bedsits with the main opportunity for inter-action between residents being the shared washing and bathing facilities – and I’m sure that’s not something any of us feel provides dignity in old age.

I was asked to speak recently on how sheltered housing could help overcome isolation and it got me thinking about the things that really made a difference in the sheltered housing we provide. We have a simple philosophy that guides all our work within this part of what we do “Is this what I’d want for my mum?” (although obviously it applies to dads too). Giving staff that single over-riding test to meet, their creativity has been unleashed and a sequence of changes has been started.

Firstly, the built form is changing. Bedsits are undignified, tiny cottage flats are incompatible with modern day kitchen equipment and the bare brick walls so fashionable in the 1970s (along with the orange and brown paint) give the feel of an institution not quite able to afford to finish the work off.

Some schemes were frankly beyond redemption and demolition and reprovision of extra-care was necessary. For the sheltered housing that remains, we have put in place a five year programme to upgrade the communal areas everywhere. Our aim is to make them feel like the best cruise ships – places that you are pleased to walk through, where you can pause and have a chance conversation and that you feel proud of when you show your family the photographs. It’s a challenge and it’s expensive, but we concluded there was no alternative.

Secondly, sheltered housing itself sits best within a broader framework of related services. We run our own call centre and response service, have our own Occupational Therapist to assess adaptations, provide Telecare and Telehealth services on behalf of the Council and have created a HandyFix service for those little jobs that might otherwise go undone. And we are now extending that still further into domiciliary care.

But most importantly, we have retained the personal link between the residents and their own scheme manager. Whilst holidays and unexpected sickness still cause us difficulties, we have kept the one-to-one relationship between a named manager and a scheme. Further we have changed the role of these managers to give them back control of their scheme: they allocate and let the empty units (and our void rates went down as soon as we did that), they are the main point of contact for carers, repair staff and other visitors and they are the lynchpin through which we integrate the scheme into its wider neighbourhood.

Each scheme mangers works with residents to develop a weekly programme of activity. Of course not all residents can, or want to take part in this, but many do. The programme is organised around the five ways to well being principles of Connect, Keep Learning, Give, Be Active, Take Notice and features inter-generational work alongside involvement of health and health-related professionals and of course a wide range of activities that are of interest to the neighbouring communities.

All this is still work in progress, but the early signs are really encouraging with a more rewarding role for our staff and better outcomes for residents. Sheltered housing may be getting on, but it’s certainly not gone past its sell-by date.

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