Sonia Parol, Design Director at Inspired Villages, explains how Inspired is designing future-proof retirement villages and the lessons taken on board from the Covid-19 pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted starkly the need for later living communities like the retirement villages we develop and operate at Inspired Villages. Our villages, which support independent living for over 65s by maximising their health and wellbeing while still giving them the privacy and dignity of their own front door, were fortunate enough not to experience any widespread outbreaks of Covid-19. Furthermore, we were able to make sure the residents were kept safe without feeling isolated.
Cooked meal and grocery deliveries to residents’ doorsteps, daily buddy calls to each resident from team members, socially distanced activities organised in our spacious grounds, online quizzes and much more were done by our dedicated teams to build a safe shield around each of our villages and keep residents still feeling connected to a community.
However, there are not enough communities like ours in the UK to match our rapidly ageing demographic. There are currently 12 million over 65s in the UK, and this figure is set to increase by 41% to 18 million by 2040, but only 7,000 housing with care units are delivered to market every year.
So now more than ever, we need to respond to the demand of an ageing population and one within a world where Covid-19 and the possibility of other variants coming along is a reality. For us this means continuously reviewing our design standards and principles, and I don’t just mean in the decorative sense. We are looking at making sure every resident can live healthy, independent lives for longer. Here are just some of the changes we are implementing:
A more compact village centre
The village centre is the vibrant heart of each of our villages, with the shared facilities located there, and as a result the majority of village activities. In the last year we reviewed and refreshed our village centre layout to create an even more flexible and safe environment for residents that is in no way institutional or overly contrived. By using an open plan design with sliding partitions, glass panels and mobile walls, we can ensure this space can flex to residents needs, whether that is cordoning off our hotel services if lockdown measures are required or (more desirably!) open up and transform the space to accommodate different activities throughout the year. For example, Christmas markets, pop-up galleries, etc.
Internal and external apartment block layouts
Windows are something that many of us take for granted – they are just part of the houses we live in or the buildings we work in. And yet for older people, windows can be vital to access the world. At Inspired Villages we therefore look at sites positioned near housing developments and communal areas with interesting features, rather than open green fields remote from any residential areas. While research suggests older people prefer being able to see nature, other views of people passing by, dog walkers, kids playing are found to be important too.
So we orientate clusters of three to five residential blocks and design landscapes around them, so residents have a choice of looking at a tranquil, soothing landscape or a lively courtyard brimming with village life. The living rooms in our apartment blocks are double aspect and designed around the views rather than the likely spot for a TV to prevent residents feeling isolated and to discourage inactivity.
We incorporate a number of outdoor spaces that encourage an active lifestyle and social interaction in the design of our villages because it aligns with our focus on holistic wellbeing. The gardens are designed in a way to encourage socialising, we already have areas such as a grass amphitheatre, lake, croquet lawns and petanque pistes in our existing villages. Furthermore, we plan to introduce more purposeful landscaped places such as dog walking trails, children’s playgrounds, BBQ areas and multi-purpose areas for yoga, painting, outdoor cinema and outdoor dining in our future villages.
Use of technology
During the pandemic we all see a real shift in the importance of technology, which has obviously been invaluable in connecting people with families and neighbours, but also in allowing our village staff to keep in touch with residents. I am excited about the possibilities that smart technology bring for enabling resident independence and more personalised healthcare, and over the coming months and years, we expect the importance of passive monitoring and use of technology will grow.
There are already plenty of virtual wellness activities offered in our villages and this will expand in the future to allow residents to stay healthy and active. Virtual sales tools will become more popular. Non- intrusive surveillance systems will replace obscure emergency call buttons. Fitness bands, floor sensors, resident-facing technologies including tablets and interactive TVs, and data collecting technology will be widely used in the future.
We are future proofing for this but putting fibre optic cabling into each apartment. We are also looking at personalized smart home tech like controllable fittings, self-closing and opening windows, light level controls and monitoring solutions. At the moment we might be only using light sensors or energy saving settings for appliances. But in the future, we will probably see more advanced technology, with rooms that can sense who exactly the person entering is and perhaps set appropriate lighting, temperature, music levels or television channels depending on time of day etc.
We will be watching the development of this technology closely and adopting where appropriate as this can not only make residents lives easier, but can also reduce energy use, waste and home running costs.
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