Sheltered housing for the 21st Century

Lois Beech
Lois Beech
Senior Research Officer, Housing LIN

Visiting sheltered housing schemes across the UK I often feel like I am Doctor Who’s companion, time-traveling back to the 70s-80s.

However, on these journeys the schemes look dated, the décor institutional and all that’s left of the community spirit is a coffee morning on a Wednesday and fish & chips on a Friday. I wish I had a sonic screwdriver that would automatically transform sheltered housing into vibrant, attractive places to live, fit for the 21st Century and for our ageing population.

Luckily, what I do have is a housing sector that thinks like me, that recognises that something needs to be done. Not only for the future viability of their organisations but also to improve the range of good quality housing choices available. Our research with older people tells us that one of the main barriers to moving is a lack of housing choice and that having a choice of attractive, aspirational, and affordable accommodation would encourage more people to move. Investing in existing stock makes sense if we want to attract more people to consider moving to ‘care-ready’ accommodation before they need it.

Many housing providers have already started bringing their stock up to 21st Century standards, others are thinking about a new version of sheltered housing that reflects the changing preferences of the older population. At the Housing LIN we are lucky enough to get to be a part of this transformation and to help housing providers think about what this means in practice.

So, what can be done? What can we do with our under or disused communal space? What does a ‘contemporary’ sheltered housing offer look like?

Well, for starters, it probably isn’t called ‘sheltered housing’. Our research with older people indicates that this term is off-putting and doesn’t reflect how people wish to see themselves. In fact, lots of providers have dropped the term already.

Then, it’s what now feels like an age-old question of what to do with communal space? On the one hand, older people are telling us that social interaction is important, yet when you step into a communal lounge they are often empty. But would you want to hang out in a place that feels institutional?

We are seeing housing providers refurbishing and modernising communal space. Wakefield & District Homes for example, just finished their 19th refurbishment at Stoneygarth Court and the communal space feels much more welcoming.

Although not in their sheltered stock, Anchor are trialling the ‘coffee shop’ model in Popple Well Springs in Tadcaster with lots of success. I see a place for this style of hospitality offer in sheltered housing.

Then we have those that are considering new developments, what do these look like? We worked with Rooftop Housing to explore the re-development of their scheme in Pershore. Exploring the role of ‘care-ready’ accommodation that adapts our needs as they change over time, as advocated by the HAPPI design principles. A good example of ‘care-ready’ accommodation can be seen in our Bruyn’s Court case study.

As the cost-of-living crisis worsens, considering the implication on residents living in energy inefficient sheltered schemes needs to be considered in any sheltered housing review. Particularly as many people living in sheltered schemes are not eligible for the government’s energy price cap and £400 rebate.

So, whilst the future seems uncertain, what we do know is that we need to focus our energy in transforming our existing sheltered housing stock not just for the current generation of older people but for future ones too.

This blog is published to coincide with HAPPI Awareness Week (12-16 December 2022). Find out more about the ‘care ready’ HAPPI design principles here

If you found this of interest, check out the sheltered housing pages on the Housing LIN website here.

And if you would like to find out more about the work we are doing to support housing operators and how our consultancy team can help you, email us at:


Posted on by Susan Weston

Great blog Lois! Your opening comment that you often feel like “Doctor Who’s companion, time-traveling back to the 70s-80s” resonates with me also. When I was a supported housing commissioner I often felt these schemes desperately needed to be brought into the 21st century and needed to change to reflect the expectations of modern older people.
Imv remodelled care ready retirement housing is increasingly important and has the potential to supplement full-blown Extra Care, which is proving frustratingly slow to develop at the scale needed. Also and in the context of the wider housing shortage, the more attractive the retirement model is, the more older people will move, thus freeing up much needed family sized homes.

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