Healthy Homes

This year the Housing Design Awards features a new award for Healthy Homes.

The famous awards have always been linked to health. Set up in 1948 by health secretary Nye Bevan, they were announced in the same Act of Parliament as the foundation of the NHS. Back then poor housing stock was associated with chronic respiratory illness and the spread of diphtheria and tuberculosis, thankfully yesterday’s problems after the efficacy of vaccination programmes. The ambition was to make the post-war rebuild of Britain’s housing stock focus on improving ventilation and preventing dampness.

In 2018 NHS England celebrated 70 years of the Housing Design Awards with a special commemorative award, won by Camden Council’s Bourne Estate near Leather Lane Market in London’s Holborn (1). Residents there have every reason possible to spend time outdoors while their apartments are nearly all dual aspect, so easy to vent, and gloriously daylit.

Today we have very different health issues but air quality is back. Internal air quality is now regularly monitored, especially near heavily trafficked routes. Research from Surrey University’s Global Centre for Clean Air (GCARE) research (2) has identified that the planting of evergreen hedgerows, ideally yew, as boundary treatments, will filter out most of the deleterious particulates caused by traffic pollution from entering our homes.

Air quality is one of a trio of factors needing design responses. Access to daylight and to the sense of wellbeing it creates was a headline target identified in the original 2009 HAPPI report. Low exposure rates to natural daylight can accelerate many illnesses of ageing, notably dementia where a lack of Vitamin D (boosted by exposure to the sun) can contribute to early onset. It is of course more prosaically linked to a general sense of wellbeing. The need for towards outdoor amenity space, typified by balconies and terraces, is partly due to a reduction in the need for older people to go outdoors, such as to work or to collect children from school or activities, etc. Similar issues affect young children during their growing years when vitamins are vital to healthy growth. Kids who spend long hours computing gaming suffer in particular during the winter months. There are alarming stories about the return of rickets which NHS has been keen to point out is a risk but not yet proven (3).

But something NHS does not believe needs any further evidence is the need for more physical movement. Locating new homes close to amenity so that people feel it is inviting to walk to local services is the trump card and will be part of the revised Building for Life 12 planning toolkit in the spring which will remind planning departments that active travel both reduces congestion and contributes to improved health outcomes. The problem for some groups is the lack of adequate refuge and comfort on such a journey, whether that’s a bench to sit, or a publicly accessible toilet. The new award will have one eye open for that. There is a fundamental need for active travel, for walking to be a credible and attractive option. NHS England calculate that 6 million adults aged 40-60 do not make a brisk 10-minute journey on foot anywhere each month (4). This is clearly just another contributing factor to the surge in prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

The new Housing Design Award will again be watching for design attentive to such needs. To submit your entry, review and complete by midday on 28 February at: (opens new window)

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