From care-free to care-ful housing with social purpose

A recent discussion on the Housing LIN HAPPI Hour webinar revolved around the question of securing quality – both in housing-with-care and more generally in mixed housing designed for all ages. 

Housing-with-care presents a special problem because for it to be successful it must support the health and wellbeing of its residents beyond the basic requirements of standards, policies, and specifications. In short, it needs care in its development as well as in its operation, to cater for quality of life. The Government’s current planning reforms appear to be eroding these basic, underpinning standards through Permitted Development Rights and a more radical overhaul of planning to ‘reduce red tape and build more housing’. Quantity and quality are uneasy bedfellows and I have argued in other articles that these measures are likely to result in more of the former and less of the latter – care-free development if you like. In this context though, perhaps we are aiming at the wrong target and we need to ask how we can rely less on mandates and more on encouraging care in the way housing is developed. 

Since the Social Value act of 2013, social benefits have been a consideration in public sector procurement and there has been a corresponding uplift in commercial development. But genuine measures of social value are hard to pin down and the factors that are measured tend to be low-hanging fruit having little impact on the outcomes in the main. 

There has also, however, been a new wave of emerging social-purpose developers – many for-profit but with the delivery of social benefits fundamentally embedded in their constitution. Many, like the longer-established Igloo Regeneration - showcased in John Nordon's HAPPI Hour presentation - are B-corporations accredited, meaning that these embedded values are independently certified. Igloo’s principles are based around the concept that investment value comes from long-term sustainability, and as the UK begins to embrace Build to Rent and other alternatives to speculative sales, this is gaining more mainstream acceptance. Other developers like Town have demonstrated that a community-first approach to development results in clearly superior outcomes, whilst developers like Stories and Drum are bringing high-end developer skills to previously un-investible housing for homeless people and other marginalised groups.  

The full impact of this innovation has yet to be felt in the housing-with-care sector, but in my view it’s an eco-system that needs nurturing. Local authorities and other landowners and operators looking for development partners need to give more weight to these credentials; to pro-actively seek value in the long-term. Recent changes to the Green Book appear to support this approach, but it is likely to need a more cultural mind-shift – away from the unavoidably reductive process of trying to measure quality – and towards building trust between organisations around a shared ethos of caring about what we do and what happens as a result.

As an architect, this ethos is part and parcel of my professional upbringing, but it is a continuous challenge to get that recognised in many procurement processes. I care about housing and I want to see this more careful approach to development flourish.

If you found this blog by Roland of interest, you can also read his other blog on age-friendly housing for the Housing LIN.

Lastly, if you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can support you develop your housing for older people strategic vision and/or operational plans to meet the future accommodation needs of older adults, please email us at:


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