FLEX Workshop Feedback

TIM BAILEY: xsite architecture

“My thoughts. What a great afternoon. In some ways as a thinking tool made better by the fact that the following morning I attended FLUX#1.01, Katherine Pearson’s new organisation flo-culture’s first think event with the question, ‘Is it a good time to be young?’. FLEX, FLUX – just waiting for FLIX, FLAX and FLOX!

Ageing is a big subject, of course, but I think an overriding consensus was beginning to develop around housing and environments that at the same time as taking care to make future developments and environments accessible and ageing friendly it is important to recognise that flexible construction tends to be an inevitable compromise because it can’t be the best of one thing and is actually expensive to modify when it comes to it because capital budgets are not set aside for such things. The themes around which I felt some progress may emerge were (i) social attitudes to ageing and indeed becoming older, (ii) the financial mechanisms that support lifestyles and (iii) policy development that supported change rather than try and force it.

(i) usefulness, wisdom, counsel are all possible sources of increased respect for older persons. Like at any other age it is incumbent on individuals to be aware and ‘literate’ in the predilections of another generation, whether it be the one before you or the one after you. Education and family settings are good places for this to be reinforced but key messages from a wide variety of other sources should be encouraged. The purpose of promoting these sort of changes would be to extend the contribution and exchange that makes for a rich society. In an environment which predicts hugely extended lifetimes we need to reach a place where 15-25 years of post retirement living is very ‘light touch’ on the state purse because active engagement keeps health good, existing family or community settings provide care and support at a low but essential maintenance level and, as is demonstrated elsewhere, active involvement in society by a wide demographic makes for better and more considered decisions.

(ii) finance is a big subject by itself but essentially what was emerging was a need to address on one hand a sense of pressure to buy property and on the other to prevent that (or another tenure choice) becoming a trap at a later stage in life. Two thoughts here. Mortgages currently get attached to people for 25 years so that they are completed within working life, if they were attached to property over a larger proportion of its life, say 60-70 years the difference in monthly payments can become contributions to pensions or endowments and the property market calms down to allow the prospect of first time buyers being able to afford appropriate accommodation. Second thought is a government fund that acts to release capital from a property at the time it is required to allow ‘move on’, let’s say becomes active six months after property on market. It can be turned to rental stock managed by Housing Association as market rented property, until able to resell. This helps with tenure mix and choice, keeps churn on property and is likely to reduce public purse burden because appropriate care is being provided earlier meaning less likelihood of health or severe actions being needed later.

(iii) Policy is critical backdrop to all of this but as soon as it becomes legislative it becomes expensive. Tax breaks for family care environments under one roof, agency for property tenure swap or transfer of accommodation to its most utilised. Action on mortgages to allow the currently suppressed earning potential of people to be spread over more outlets than current constraints allow. Attaching mortgages to property not people, ought to create flexibility and allow better options for ownership and rental markets. The ‘nudge’ principle comes into play here and I think is best used when peer example spread good practice.

Great subject! Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.”


GILL DONOGHUE: Housing Services Manager, Caledonia HA
BA (Hons) Applied Economics, PG Diploma Housing, MCIH

“I really enjoyed the session and the breadth of ideas about housing options for older people…how we get people to start planning for frailty earlier will be the real challenge; as will making use of technology in a way that people will feel comfortable with in supporting independence – but there were certainly concepts and examples that could be developed further. I also really liked the community living models being discussed.”


BARBARA DOUGLAS: Strategic Director, Quality of Life Partnership

“I really enjoyed the workshop and the rich flow of discussion, which, for me really got ‘under the skin’ of what demographic change means for us, and that it’s not about tweaking and finding quick fix solutions, but about radically re-thinking our principles and values.  I understood more clearly that it is only once we have started to change our thinking, that we can start to change its manifestation in housing and urban design. The enormity of the challenge is sometimes overwhelming, but I was encouraged by the spirit and creativity of architects/designers and felt that there was the energy and spark to rise to the challenge.”


SARAH FROOD: Creative Director, 
icecream architecture

“In discussing elderly housing there is often no real starting point. In talking about where we are to live when we age we must also consider where we have lived. Though we often think of elderly accommodation as something we move to and therefore it becomes a cliff edge in our life, I feel that we must shift how we think and consider as a society how we prepare for our own ageing. The consideration of convivial living raised points around how we must think of how our needs may change, when currently we enjoy rooms full of laughter, music and groups of family and friends around us, as we age theses scenarios could become overwhelming and difficult to deal with. We must also consider the change in generations; as the ageing generation changes the people who populate these will also change they have grown up in different eras with very different agendas and attitudes. On reflection it was clear that there must be quite radical changes in thought and process around elderly housing but that there is no one solution that we can adapt, one home does not fit all.”


DENISE GILLIE: Peter Fletcher Associates

“I would like to reiterate the points I made at the end about understanding the context for this work which includes the wider housing market which is characterised by high levels of owner occupation amongst older people, growing numbers of younger people priced out of local housing markets and renting and pressure on affordable housing for rent (more people wanting this type of housing than there is available). Alongside this health and social care now offer a range of services designed to help older people remain living in their own homes (adaptations, gardening, home care, community alarms etc.) meaning that for many there is no need to move house and/or once there is a need to move its too difficult to do so especially if they have to sell their house, find somewhere else and arrange packing and moving.
Underpinning all of the above older people always cite the need for advice and information about their housing care and support options and this would include a clear policy on funding for long term care which we don’t have.
Finally we still don’t have a design for all age housing – Lifetime Homes is not universally accepted and seen as costly so perhaps we need a 2012 version.”


JO GOODING: Co-ordinator, UK Cohousing Network

“I thought the event was valuable in the sense of working with a range of practitioners that have influence on delivering solutions to meet the needs of ageing populations. Also to have space to consider and think beyond the current malaise in how to solve not just the practical physical development issues, but recognising the intrinsic value in social and environmental factors to support well being, happiness and affordable warm homes. Exciting to hear so many reach the conclusion that cohsouing can offer a mainstream solution, both in forming new communities but also implementing into existing settlements.

The challenge for us all, is to articulate these thoughts, perhaps alongside an evidence base to substantiate the qualitative thinking to wider networks. Principally those that will be shaping housing and community options in the near future. The next Comprehensive Spending Review is a tangible opportunity to lobby for the right framework and resources to implement these models. Recent public policy announcements demonstrate that the unwillingness of politicians to front radical solutions to address the financial and care burden. Alongside the eco movement, there is a growing need for a political campaign for the young and elderly. On demographics the numbers are clear – we know what is going to happen and continue to  permit policy and resource allocation to avoid addressing the issues. The over 50’s should start to self finance now and actively engage in creating neighbourhoods and support structures to provide for happy, active and healthier ageing processes. By working together in our neighbourhoods we can collectively support independent living for longer – not by replacing the need for substantive care but by simple sharing meals together, having a structure to offer transport, or to collect food/medicines etc when needed. Designing space to encourage informal interaction. Cohousing recognises the value of active ageing – there is always a role in community that can be taken on and adapted to suit changing abilities.”


ROBERT SAKULA: Partner, Ash Sakula Architects

“I thought the session started very strongly and well, but it got a bit diffuse and lost focus as the afternoon went on. I wasn’t totally convinced, and I had the impression that others also weren’t, that the topics were necessarily those that would bring out important insights: I am thinking in particular about ‘materials’ here, and in fact the table didn’t really discuss materials at all, as it didn’t seem relevant. I think it could have been useful also to spell out more clearly at the outset what you as organisers were hoping/expecting to get out of the session – though perhaps as a first get together it was more suck it and see.

In the end I concluded that the old get isolated for societal rather than physical environmental reasons. The physical constraints are more a symptom than a cause – a symptom of an atomised and over-individualistic society that makes most of us prize freedom of individual action over social conviviality – which comes with real or potential restrictions on individual freedom.

For a minority who are willing to buy into it, co-housing offers a possible solution to increased/enforced(?) conviviality. I think the take up of co-housing would be greater if there were more clearly seen to be real personal rewards to getting involved, rather than just what tend to be seen as obligations. Rewards might include lower capital cost of housing, lower bills, more eco lifestyle.

You are planning to consult with 40-60 years olds. Well I am a year away from 60, and I don’t feel I know the first thing yet about growing old. So I am wondering if you should talk instead, or as well, to some 85 year olds who really get it. You would need to be selective, and find people who are alert and articulate: my mum would be a good candidate.”


ADRIAN STEWART: Director, DO-Architecture

“Regarding the workshop content I thought the day was very enlightening and engaging for all of the various participants.

The format and programme were very balanced allowing the participants to contribute, share and absorb new information.

My thoughts on the day, which I feel should be fed through into the next series of workshops would be to keep these very simple and succinct.

The subject matter affects all of us, now and in a few years (!), and as this is a universal subject then the workshop format and language should be very accessible, using plain English and resisting the use of jargon.”


SCOTT TURPIE: Partner, Nicoll Russell Studios

“The workshop offered an excellent chance to engage and reflect on a whole range of issues revolving – and evolving – around housing, ageing, and society in general. The use of pre-determined topics to open the discussion (“home”, “getting old”, “flexibility”, “conviviality”) created a useful context from which diverse and thought provoking contributions emerged. As architects actively engaged on “Housing with Care” projects, this discourse reinforced certain simple beliefs underpinning our Studio’s design philosophy (normality, inclusion, independence, opportunity, choice, memory, community, respect, diversity). It also opened doors to further areas of potential exploration, particularly less “conventional” co-living models and creative forms of funding.

Looking back on the session overall, it was most successful when attempting to define the nature of the challenges to be addressed, but on reflection perhaps turned too quickly to looking for “solutions”- possibly we were trying to “answer the question” before the question itself was fully framed? Future workshops may offer an opportunity to develop this further.

It is important to set the discussion over housing an ageing population within the widest possible context. We should be wary of over- generalising and should not segment society by age, any more than we should by race, religion, size, shape, or any other social construct. “Older people” are individuals, with the same tremendous variation in abilities, needs, ambitions and concerns as people of any other age. In other words, the solutions as to how we might design, build, adapt, fund and nurture our communities and our patterns of living should be seen “in the round” and not from a singularly isolated perspective.

We must continue to view people for what they can do, what they want to do, and consider how we can empower them to do it, through all stages of life. This includes how, and where, and with whom, they might want to live. A fundamental aspect of this develops from the understanding that “choice” and “control” are key aspects of independent living, and it is the aspiration to retain a high degree of independence that underpins the concerns of many older people. A loss of control and an absence of choice in any walk of life can contribute to a sense of imprisonment, isolation, and disconnection. Choices available to people must ideally be adaptable enough to flex to individual need and preference, whether in buildings or in social support structures. The choice to be sociable or to withdraw; the option to have a little help with daily tasks, but not all the time; an environment in which the individual controls their routines rather than routine controlling them i.e. simple, basic, human needs.

There is no lack of creative talent willing and able to embrace these issues, and if aligned with a funding landscape as aspirational as a lot of political rhetoric on the subject, great advances could be made. One challenge therefore for future workshops on this subject is to consider how our values, perceptions, and buildings can develop to a point where, as we ease into older age, consideration of an appropriately “supportive” environment might become an actively sought out and available choice, rather than a solution of last resort.”


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