With advances in healthcare technology and medical science, including what we know about healthy living and wellbeing, diagnostics, drugs and new forms of treatments, we might be forgiven for thinking that later living is the best it has ever been.

As a society we’re living longer and in many cases remaining more independent, more active than ever before and making an extended contribution to the workplace as retirement ages increase. But it seems the longer we live we are statistically more likely to develop long-term and chronic health conditions.

There are currently 9.9 million people in England (and 11.8 million in the UK overall) over the age of 65. This number is forecast to rise by 20% over the next decade. The number of people aged 90 or over is set to almost double in the next 10 years.

The growth at the older end of our population spectrum means the nature and demands on health, housing and social care are changing. Already more than two-fifths of the NHS’ budget is spent on over 65s. Diabetes costs the NHS over £1.5m an hour and there is also increased demand for assisted living, care at home and changes in the type of medical conditions which need treating. There is pressure, related to all aspects of later living, on authorities who find themselves with a legacy of facilities designed to cater for the needs of society from decades ago. 

Given the financial constraints on our health system and ability of our housing market to deliver the homes we need on seemingly limited available land, a mind-set change is needed in terms of how we utilise our buildings and land assets to deliver care and more appropriate living environments that focus on longer, healthy living and preventing ill health. 

In addition to the social challenge the UK’s population is ageing at a faster rate than ever before and the ‘grey pound’ is becoming increasingly influential. Indeed, it could be argued that the wealth, income, and the needs of our elderly population are likely to shape our built environment as much as younger generations in years to come. There is a significant potential market for age appropriate housing and this demand is only set to grow in years to come.

Bringing an independent perspective can help reallocate and reuse stretched assets. For example, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust entered a joint venture with Ryhurst, to make efficiency savings and invest in new facilities. The partnership led to £5 million in revenue savings for the Trust and an improvement in space utilisation of 39%. This helped enable the Trust to create a new 154-bed residential mental health facility supporting frail and elderly patients, both of which better meet the changing needs of the local community.

In housing provision, Extra Care Housing and retirement villages  have steadily been quietly growing as a subset of the housing industry, making an important contribution to the housing mix in two ways. Firstly by helping people to remain independent in later life with access to the care they need, and secondly freeing up larger homes further down the chain for other families.  

An example of this is Rydon’s RIBA Award-winning Hazelhurst Court Extra Care scheme in Lewisham for Phoenix Community Housing, providing 60 new affordable homes for people over 60. Designed in the underutilised grounds of a sheltered housing facility, these homes offer opportunities for social interaction and a range of communal facilities helping to keep residents healthier for longer and reducing demand on social care and NHS budgets.

Both these examples have innovatively used land to create viable, specialist facilities in locations that were previously not considered or thought possible. The question is then: How many more spaces could be freed up in our public assets throughout the country to deliver more?

We simply do not have enough of the type of care and accommodation to cater for a quarter of the population being aged 65 and over by 2045. We need to reconsider how we deliver better and more cost effective ways of housing to look after generations of parents, grandparents and great grandparents in a more suitable and sustainable way. Using land innovatively perhaps isn’t the single silver bullet, but being innovative in how we tackle the challenge over the long term is.

There needs to be a challenge set out for a wide range of possible Investors, Developers, and Registered Providers to work with statutory bodies in identifying solutions to deliver Extra Care Housing, retirement villages and Supported Accommodation throughout the UK. This sharing of information will inform the development of the options appraisal for the best way forward and using the potential supplier market should help to help finalise a national commissioning strategy.

As our understanding of treatment and medical science continues to step forward, so there needs to be a leap in the way in how we provide good quality care and facilities. Responding to the need to treat and house our growing older population is as much a challenge as it is an opportunity so they can continue to enjoy a high standard of living while remaining active in and contributing to society.