Ageing on your own terms

For more than 20 years I have done my level best to reform and re-invent nursing homes, first through the “Eden Alternative” and then through the “Green House” model. However, I’ve come to realise the sector isn’t really going to change.

So I’ve decided to make it so people don’t need nursing homes in the first place. Before I can do this, I need to answer the simplest and most important question:

“What do people really want?”

The answer is pretty simple really. What people of all ages and situations want most is to live life on their own terms. To live where and how they want.   

And for most people, the point at which they fail to live life on their own terms comes down to the same thing — housing.

Tens of millions of people of all ages will find their houses, and housing stock in general, to be too big, too expensive and too hard to maintain. For younger people, these barriers can prevent them from owning a home of their own. For older people, sustaining a big unwieldy house can be the thing that tips the scale from independence to dependence.  

I’ve decided to follow the example of Goldilocks and develop a new approach to housing that isn’t too big, or too small.  I wanted to create a house that would be “just right” for millions of people.

I used my time in Japan and my study of its architecture to inspire a new kind of house, a compact, digitally native, modular, panelized house that is both affordable and easy to live in. It seemed right to call this model the “Minka” because that is the Japanese word for “a house for regular people.”

With backing from Mainstreet Investments (opens new window), I worked with BUILDlab (opens new window) architect David Bosworth to create a system of interchangeable house parts that can be combined and re-combined to give people just the house they want and need. We have leveraged the latest advances in digital design tools, robotics, and construction materials to minimize cost (for example, by dramatically minimizing waste and rapidly accelerating completion time) and maximize customization.

Better. Faster. Cheaper.

We love the fact that a Minka can be exquisitely designed, rapidly “printed,” packed into a cargo container, shipped and assembled anywhere– in the world.

Our goal is to make the Minka available to people everywhere and be amazed by the way our customers use Minkas to foster independence and wellbeing for themselves and the people they love. Bearing in mind, the best kind of independence is the kind that lets us be independent— together.

The beauty of Minka is that it can be adapted to suit different age groups so we can create multi-generational communities. This will help stop the segregation and isolation of older people who don’t want to find themselves living in facilities that include only the old and disabled. 

Now Minka isn’t the solution to the challenges facing the UK’s health and social care sectors. But what it does demonstrate is the importance of listening and responding to customer needs, and the capacity to provide diversity in housing.

I’m really excited to be joining the Housing LIN’s IdeasFest (opens new window) this month, and to be part of the conversation about providing older people with different housing options in later life that supports their personal goals, as well as their health and wellbeing.

As a geriatrician and also a father, I want a brighter future for everyone where ageing is about love, growth and possibility. And where people can age on their own terms.

"the best kind of independence is the kind that lets us be independent— together"

Follow Bill on Twitter - @drbillthomas (opens new window)


Posted on by Caroline Attwood FRSA

Brilliant! This is the idea i have been working on, too i.e. modular housing that can be constructed rapidly and is rapidly adaptable to user needs as circumstances change. As for the sector not changing - we need to make it change by forcing the government to listen to our needs and comprehend that the ideas we have are valid, cost effective and appropriate to our needs. I am just so sorry that I won't be at the event to meet you and exchange ideas!

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