Experimenting with intergenerational living has been happening for many years around the world, in particular across Europe, but has somehow never taken off in the UK. Is the UK such an age segregated society that the concept of intergenerational living is too challenging to overcome?
The opportunities offered by this approach to housing and its contribution to a number of current socio-economic challenges are wide and varied across the whole spectrum of ages. The challenges facing young people are due not only to a lack of housing stock but also the unequal way it’s distributed between the generations. This is set against the reality that almost a third of housing stock is headed by a person of retirement age with estimates of housing wealth of older people soaring.
However, there is no link between this perceived wealth and high levels of wellbeing amongst older people, particularly around social isolation and loneliness; Silver Line, a UK helpline for older people, stated in recent research that 53% of their callers say they have no one to talk to. The oft quoted statistic about loneliness being as detrimental to an older person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, only serves to emphasise the picture.
"Is the concept of intergenerational living too challenging to overcome in the UK?"In the Netherlands intergenerational living has been happening for some time, in part responding to government cuts which have made it increasingly difficult for an ageing population to get a subsidized apartment, leaving some retirement schemes with more rooms than they can fill.
As a response University students across the Netherlands have been moving into some of the retirement schemes. Often rent free and in exchange spending at least 30 hours per month with the older people who live there, doing things the professional staff cannot always do, like simply hanging out together. This approach has been seen to benefit everyone.
In Barcelona, the City Council and a number of Universities got together to test the idea of housing students in the homes of older people. This was started in 1996 with around 20 people and has now grown to a fully consolidated programme across Spain, operating across 27 cities.
Closer to home and on a slightly different scale, in early 2017, a lecturer in Dementia at Bangor University, Catrin Hedd Jones, put the theory of intergenerational living into practice by taking part in a documentary where they introduced a small group of children into an adult day care setting. Their findings being that it greatly promote the children’s social and emotional skills and demonstrated positive interactions with those attending the day care.
Co-locating nurseries into retirement villages and Extra Care schemes across the country is something that is already being explored across England. Indeed Housing & Care 21, the largest provider of Extra Care housing in England, have themselves started to explore the idea of using redundant day centre spaces to locate nurseries.
The many proven and possibly unexplored benefits of intergenerational living are wide and varied. There are the social benefits of stimulating learning for old and young; economic benefits, including sharing skills and learning for staff, recruitment and retention, use of communal facilities and of course setting a USP. Beyond this, there are wider societal benefits including reducing age segregation and tackling social isolation and loneliness. With these in mind isn’t it time we started to properly explore and promote what our European neighbours have been successfully doing for some time, and introduce intergenerational living in our Retirement Housing and Extra Care schemes?
The topic has been one of many discussed at the Future of Older People’s Housing Conference which Housing & Care 21 hosted on 19th October 2017 in Birmingham. The organisations involved in discussing this topic included, Peabody, United for All Ages and Shared Lives Plus.