'We need housing to support our older people's independence.'
Lynn Clayton, from Derwent Living, explains what 107-year-old resident Dolly's story tells us about our older people and the importance of housing which supports their independence.
Derwent Living’s oldest resident, Dolly Smith, turned 107 years old recently. It was a very special day and Dolly was joined by family, neighbours, friends and even a few ex-Derby County players for a party.
As we celebrated Dolly’s 107th birthday, it made us think about the importance of retirement living schemes such as Beckitt Close, where Dolly has lived for over 30 years.
Dolly is fiercely independent: she still prepares her own meals and does her own laundry. In fact, she prepared a trifle for her birthday celebrations. She takes part in coffee mornings, scheme activities and likes to keep up with all the latest fashions.
This is what sheltered housing is all about – enabling people in their twilight years to keep living independently and with dignity.
It brings peace of mind for both residents and their families with 24-hour emergency call systems, but also the invaluable social interaction that retirement living provides.
Being part of a community is crucial in helping to prevent loneliness and boosting the mental wellbeing of many older people.
Sheltered housing has seen many changes over the course of Dolly’s time at Beckitt Close – the removal of resident wardens, following the withdrawal of Supporting People funding, has fundamentally changed the nature of retirement living schemes.
But people are living longer than ever, while the number of elderly people with illnesses like dementia is expected to increase.
And so, organisations have had to dramatically adapt to ensure that they can still provide the kind of independent living that is so crucial to people like Dolly.
Our estate and tenancy officers take an on-site intensive housing management approach, which might sound impersonal but it’s precisely the opposite. Our scheme managers are often a lifeline for those who live on our retirement schemes.
They provide advice, support and assistance; and crucially they also provide a link between residents and external bodies, such as social services, when needed.
There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that sheltered housing is saving the Government and the NHS a great deal of money. According to a recent report by cross-party think-tank Demos, sheltered housing saves the state around £486m per year.
The Social Value of Sheltered Housing report identifies a myriad of savings to the NHS and social services: £300m per year from reduced length in-patient hospital stays; £169m per year from fall prevention; and £17.8m from reduced loneliness experienced by elderly people.
Despite the changing nature and reduced funding of sheltered housing, it clearly still plays a key role in preventative care for older and vulnerable people. As the Demos research shows, the ability to provide this service has a much wider impact on vital services such as the NHS.
The whole sector remains concerned about the potential application of the Local Housing Allowance cap on supported housing, which will put further financial pressure on such schemes.
Britain's population is ageing fast but the housing market has responded at a snail's pace. Earlier this year Derwent Living joined Places for People, a group which recognises the need for a holistic housing strategy for our ageing population. To increase the availability of suitable retirement accommodation and offer greater choice, Places for People is developing a portfolio of specialist retirement businesses to complement its existing sheltered and supported housing provision. This strategy builds on Places for People’s 50-year track record of providing high-quality housing and support services, including homes for the over-55s and those requiring care.
Quality housing can have a life-long impact. That’s why social housing providers are so vital: to the healthy lives of young families; to single people; and to people like Dolly who want to enjoy an active, dignified retirement. Perhaps with the occasional visit from their favourite footballers!
Lynn Clayton is assistant director of housing at Derwent Living.