Local authorities across the country are grappling with multiple challenges. Along with a housing crisis, an ageing population, rising demand for critical services and an ever-widening funding gap, councils are under enormous pressure to do more with less.
With more than 11 million people aged over 65 in the UK, predicted to rise to 13 million (22% of the population) over the next decade, there needs to be more choice for older people needing care and support but wanting to maintain their independence.
Extra Care offers an alternative to residential care, allowing more people to live independently in quality housing with care and support, enabling couples to stay together and reducing isolation and loneliness.
North Yorkshire Council is a leader in this field, developing 28 Extra Care schemes over the past 20 years, including 10 with Housing 21. Having exceeded its original target of 20, the council is on course to have 30 such schemes by 2025.
Key to North Yorkshire’s success is the fact that it has a well-thought-out strategy for older people’s housing and strong leadership to see it through. Our partnership came about largely due to the council’s vision aligning with our commitment to support older people to live well.
Another factor has been the level of buy-in from councillors and officers, who have worked together to make their aspirations a reality, while working with communities to demonstrate the benefits of development. While the changing political landscape can sometimes pose challenges, it was the council’s unwavering focus that kept the strategy on track. Its clarity of vision and support with the specifics of nominations agreements has also proved invaluable.
Fundamental to achieving North Yorkshire’s ambitions was the need to find the right long-term partners, such as ourselves, to help deliver these much-needed homes.
While the local authority was able to invest funds and provide land to build Extra Care schemes, many cash-strapped councils will have more limited resources. However, the right partner can find suitable development sites and unlock grant opportunities such as Homes England funding, which supports housing associations like Housing 21 to build more homes.
Reaping the rewards
The Extra Care model – purpose-built, self-contained homes with tailored support to meet individuals’ changing needs – can help couples with differing care needs remain together and those living alone to enjoy being part of a community.
As a specialist provider of older people’s housing (Retirement Living and Extra Care), with more than 150 Extra Care schemes across the country, we understand the difference living in appropriate housing can make. In a recent survey, 79% of residents reported an increase in their overall happiness after moving into one of our schemes.
In addition, by enabling people to move out of larger properties which can be difficult to maintain and no longer suited to their needs, it frees up much-needed housing for others, including families struggling to find a place to live.
Harder to quantify but just as significant is the benefit Extra Care brings in reducing the strain on NHS and social care services. Having appropriate housing and flexible support in place when older people are ready to leave hospital speeds up discharge, thereby freeing up beds and assisting recovery.
At a time when many shops and post offices are closing all over the country, Extra Care schemes offer an opportunity to house such hugely beneficial community assets. Many of our developments include thriving shared facilities, open to residents and others in the area.
In more rural parts of Yorkshire, it has been heartwarming to see how our schemes’ cafes, restaurants, libraries, hair salons, meeting rooms and social activities, including inter-generational initiatives, have helped breathe new life into communities.
With the growing need for older people’s housing in urban areas, this transformational element offers perhaps even greater opportunities where boarded-up buildings in town and city centres can be re-purposed to support a variety of housing needs.
A model to replicate
North Yorkshire’s proactive approach offers valuable lessons for others wanting to explore this housing model but uncertain where to start.
In the face of the huge and growing challenges before us, now is the time for local authorities to discuss the potential benefits of such developments in their area, agree what they would like to achieve and forge the necessary partnerships to realise their vision.
Kris Peach is managing director of extra care at Housing 21