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Coming of age – giving everyone a home that’s right for them


One of the key headlines from Professor Chris Whitty’s ‘Health in an Ageing Society’ annual report for 2023 called for policy and medical practice to focus on ‘improving the quality of life for older people’.

In a country with an ageing demographic, and as a consultancy which works exclusively in the built environment, we believe that a thriving retirement living sector can be a force for good. It’s why this year we are excited to join the Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) – the main body representing the Integrated Retirement Community sector in the UK.

Professor Whitty argues there is insufficient infrastructure in the UK designed specifically for older people, including housing. For those of us who have presented to local Councillors, listened to Planning Committees which have debated the demand for more of the right homes and need to free up existing family homes, or even attended consultation events with members of the public, the need for more elderly accommodation is a fact we know only too well.

Having worked with several clients in the sector – supporting the development of specialist homes for older people across the UK – we have an on the ground understanding of the important role Integrated Retirement Communities (IRCs) have in meeting the needs of an ageing population.

The same is not true, sadly, of the wider public, and therein lies a key problem. One of the biggest challenges faced by the sector is that of efficient communication. While the number of IRCs in the UK is growing at pace, we still fall far behind our American, Australasian and many European counterparts, not just in terms of delivery and scale, but also in public understanding of the model.

When the topic of retirement living comes up in conversation, for example when exploring future housing options with parents and grandparents, the types of comments that often come back are about not wanting to live in care homes or sheltered housing. In some cases, this can even extend to local authorities, which is natural for those areas with limited existing examples to point to. Take decision makers on a tour of an IRC, however, – like Ledian Gardens, recently delivered by Inspired Villages – and the misconceptions quite quickly fall away.

Across the built environment, there remains a significant need to properly communicate the benefits of IRCs to the wider community. This of course includes the more immediate tangible benefits in terms of facilities and amenities accessible for residents. With operators in the sector also leading the charge in the race to net-zero, there are also significant environmental benefits to point towards.

However, failing to also acknowledge the intrinsic benefits of rightsizing on the wider housing stock can be damaging, leading to arguments over a need to deliver the ‘right sort of housing’, for example in favour of younger people looking to get on the housing ladder. To date, countless reports have been published stressing the need to deliver more purpose-built homes for older people as a means of tackling the housing crisis, but wider acknowledgement and understanding of this can often be limited.

According to recent research by Knight Frank, IRCs are now the dominant form of delivery in the sector, accounting for 58% of all new senior housing units built in 2022 – up from 49% in 2021, and 40% in 2020. Nevertheless, delivery remains far short of demand, with the percentage of the UK population aged 65+ expected to rise to 25% by 2024according to the ONS.

While factors such as investment, land availability and diversification of options for older people are key components in meeting this demand, overcoming the challenges from a planning perspective entails a strong approach to communication.

As part of ARCO’s Affiliate network from the start of 2024, we are committed to helping both new and existing clients across the sector overcome such challenges, helping to unlock the built environment’s potential to create positive change in an ageing population. We look forward to working with ARCO members, to help shape the changing face of retirement living and house an ageing population.

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