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Generation Gap

The generation that grew up during Beatlemania, the early Comprehensive school system, The Cold War (with The Berlin Wall as its iconic symbol) and listened to Radio Caroline as Alf Ramsay began his World Cup preparations is now reaching retirement age. The lucky ones are considering “downsizing” from large family homes, releasing equity to add to their pensions and looking forward to a long and active retirement.

100 years ago, there were only 13000 people in Britain over the age of 90. Today there are almost half a million and there are over nine million over the age of 65. This part of the population has grown by over a million in the past ten years and is now growing more quickly.

But what sort of homes does this part of the retirement population want to live in? Most are not ready for sheltered housing and certainly don’t want to move into retirement homes but they have specific needs that in general are not being catered for. This is surprising given the size of the market and the readiness of developers to take advantage of market opportunities. The adoption of Lifetime Homes Standards into Building Regulations does not really apply to this generation as these 16 key design criteria primarily deal with accessibility and adaptability. They were developed by Habinteg Housing Association in the 1980s and then published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 1997. So, for example, there is a required minimum distance from a  parking space to a front door with a level threshold entrance, internally, there must be a suitable space for installing a hydraulic platform lift and bathrooms must have side access to the bath tub and toilet with space for a wheelchair to enter and turn.  But this generation is more concerned with the proximity of a gym or golf course than anticipating future needs. In any case, these design criteria only apply to new build homes and, as we know, most homes (like their occupants) are much older.

The other part of good “Lifetime Housing” design deals with the neighbourhood in which the homes are located. This should provide a community with plenty of services and facilities, an accessible environment, a strong social and cultural fabric underpinned by detailed consultation by decision makers and power holders and, therefore, a strong local identity. In some towns like Christchurch in Dorset, the population aged over 65  already accounts for 30% of the town and this is expected to be the case in Harrogate and Scarborough in the next twenty years. That population itself may well deal with and provide the type of community that it wants without living in newly built homes that meet the Lifetime Homes Standards.

However, many retired people today are looking for homes that are easy to run, provide peace and quiet (including good sound insulation in case neighbours are a little deaf and watch the television at full volume), have adequate space for children and grandchildren to stay (but not too much in case they see moving in permanently as an attractive option) and have plenty of storage space. After all, they may have downsized but their possessions have not necessarily correspondingly been thinned out! They also seek good health care and want the sort of medical practice featured in last week’s television news bulletins showing extended surgery hours.

The canny ones are often searching the internet for the most economic utility suppliers, mobile phone and internet providers and best rates for holidays. They have the time as well as the “nouse” and inclination. They don’t necessarily need to be consulted by those in authority as they are often already active and campaigning within their community and all too willing to take these bodies on whenever necessary. One retired mathematician and teacher had a battle for years with Royal Mail who insisted that his home was called “The Hobbits” when he had named it simply “Hobbits.” His Indian visa application was rejected as his address appeared incorrect and he eventually charged Royal Mail with the costs of a second application that promptly led them to change their records.

We may not have the huge retirement villages that have grown up in America but we certainly have the ageing demography with its own needs and strong voice. After all, this generation was rebellious in its youth and is bound to be just as active and demanding in its retirement.