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One in three people aged over 55 want to downsize but can’t because of the lack of suitable housing, claimed the Generation Stuck report released this week.

For anyone working in housing this won’t come as much of a surprise.

A chronic under supply of suitable homes means that many older people are effectively trapped in homes that just don’t meet their needs anymore and as a consequence, many suffer from loneliness and isolation.

The Campaign to End Loneliness states that 11% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a month and over half of all people aged 75 and over live alone.

With the number of people aged over 65 in the UK set to rise to 19 million by 2050, the sad fact is that the number of lonely, older people is likely to increase.

In Bournville in Birmingham, where we work, these figures couldn’t resonate more loudly. The average age of a resident in the village is 57 years old.

This is much higher than the average age of a person living in Birmingham – 36 years old – and England’s average of 38. Bournville has an ageing population and it’s getting older.

So what can we do about a problem like loneliness?

Developing the right kind of housing is one of the first steps the sector can take in helping to tackle the feelings of loneliness prevalent amongst our ageing population.

We believe the housing sector can play a key role in alleviating some of the root causes of loneliness like inappropriate housing, isolation and poor health.

When land became available in Bournville, we decided to create not just new homes for older people but a whole village to meet their needs.

The first part of the village, delivered in partnership with the ExtraCare Charitable Trust, Birmingham City Council and the Homes and Communities Agency, opened last year.

It has 212 homes and 18 community facilities to encourage engagement and interaction amongst residents and the wider community.

Residents can take part in hobbies they may have abandoned because of isolation or problems with mobility, including choir singing, gardening and woodwork.

One of the village’s first residents, Margery, was living alone in a three-bedroom house and felt ‘lonely, nervous and unsafe’. Since moving to the village, the 73-year-old has made new friends.

The benefits of integrating these kind of facilities with housing aren’t anecdotal.

A three-year study by Aston University for the ExtraCare Charitable Trust, found the ‘village model’ delivered a 14.8% reduction in depressive symptoms over 18 months.

This was accompanied by a 64.3% reduction in people with significant ‘clinical level’ depression over the same period.

Loneliness can also increase amongst older people as their health deteriorates.

Around 59% of people aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely compared to 21% in excellent health, say the Campaign to End Loneliness.

At our care village health services will be integrated, with plans for a GP practice, pharmacy and health and social care services including, we hope, rehabilitation accommodation for people discharged from hospitals.

By integrating housing and health in this way, we believe the housing sector can play a key role in alleviating some of the root causes of loneliness like inappropriate housing, isolation and poor health.

For the sake of so many lonely, older people, we must provide the right kind of housing integrated with health facilities that can change their lives.

Peter Roach, Chief Executive of Bournville Village Trust

 (First published in Inside Housing)
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