Opinion - Growing old (dis)gracefully: Choice for the late middle age.
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities
Government launches 'society for all ages' strategy
By John Wade
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase ‘older people’?
Maybe you think of a frail, vulnerable person who lives on their own and relies on intermittent visits from a family member or a state funded care worker to eke out a lonely existence?
There has been a lot of talk in the media about our increasingly ageing population and what this means for us all. Lurking in the background of this conversation has been a series of assumptions about what a typical older person might be like.
The thing is that the typical image we might have conjured may not be an accurate representation of what older people really experience. We are forgetting that for many their later years are actually pretty healthy, financially secure, own their own home and lead active, independent lives.
So what does someone do if they want to carry on living this way but their partner needs to slow down, or maybe they’ve suffered a health scare?
We are often told that the current social care agenda is all about choice but at the moment that choice just isn’t out there for many older people. Innovation around products and services is still largely focussed on the young.
When it comes to older people it is as if they are seen as one homogenous group of people with the same needs and preferences. There is no reason why people should not expect to see their options and choices increasing as they move into later life.
There should be more choice around how and where to live. There should be more choice as to how services are designed and delivered. Instead, for many it’s a choice between no products or services at all or a bland one-size fits all approach, which is both informed by and reinforces a negative perception of older people and what they want.
Only a small, wealthy minority can afford to shop in a market place that really does offer more aspirational and well-designed options.
A wonderful piece of research has recently explored this whole area of getting older and how people feel about it. The study was carried out by Dr. Emma Lindley and Steve Broome of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and was commissioned by Hanover Housing Association to mark their 50th anniversary.
The resulting report, titled “Sex, skydiving and tattoos: The end of retirement and the dawn of a new old age?” is a great read and its findings chimed with so much of what we had been discussing at Bromford as we reflected on the services we provide for older people.
Emma’s study heard the views of four focus groups, from millennials (people born since the year 2000) to the over 70s. What became apparent was the poor perception that many young people had of growing older and how this contrasted with the overwhelmingly positive feelings of older people themselves, or as they preferred to call themselves, ‘the later middle-age’.
Many in ‘the later middle-age’ have more personal wealth and better health and quality of life than ever before. The reality of a population with an increasing life expectancy does mean some people living with long-term health issues for many years, but even this is not dampening people’s aspirations and expectations.
Older people want to continue pursuing their interests, experiencing new things and having fun. Many play an active part in the community through volunteering, the provision of childcare, or taking on civic duties as councillors, school governors, etc. As a social business, Bromford is responding by looking to develop housing that better meets the needs and aspirations of older people today and into the future.
In recent years there has been an explosion in the development of what is usually called extra care housing – housing with 24-hour care available on site. However, the vast majority of this new provision has been rented, social housing. A number of providers have developed housing options that are for sale but these tend to pay only lip service to any sense of community or home for life.
At Bromford we want to take a different tack. We are looking to build, manage and sell housing that is attractive, uses modern design and is affordable to live in. We are giving particular consideration to current homeowners.
The housing sector, developers, health and social care often seem to forget that in many parts of the country 80% of older people own their own property. Some will have occupational pensions on top of state pensions but many will be ‘asset rich but income poor’. This group of people expect to have choices but now when they look around for alternative housing often struggle, without moving away from friends and family, to find what they want, can afford or are eligible for.
We want to build communities that build the positive social capital that will help older people to live the best life that they can. We want to build on the interests, skills and contributions of older people and create open, vibrant places to live. We are using social media to create a platform for older people to share their ideas, hopes and concerns about ageing and lifestyle. We want to engage with a wide range of people already in later life or those approaching this stage that might be beginning to think about their future; including those who aren’t yet customers of Bromford. This will help us shape our proposals as they develop.
We’re only in the early stages at the moment, but we’re already starting two pilot schemes for older people. Through an innovative approach to the basics we are developing a product that we believe will give people the type of housing and services that will allow them to continue their lifestyle and live in desirable and appropriate locations.
Like Hanover, Bromford is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. We’ve learnt a lot over this time. Our values and purpose haven’t changed but we know we need to constantly adapt and change how we do things as the needs and aspirations of society and those we serve evolve. We are confident that this way of thinking is helping us develop an exciting new approach to housing for older people, which brings something new to the table.
We’re looking forward to reading the first few stories from older people involved in our research and hopefully sharing them as blogs, but it’s already clear that the consensus is that growing old need not be something to fear – not if you really do get to stay in control and make your own choices.
John Wade is managing director of Bromford Support, part of the Bromford Group.
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