It is estimated that every year, unsuitable housing costs the NHS £1.4 billion. Issues with cold, damp and hazards causing trips and falls are leading to poor physical and mental health amongst the elderly. But what if there was a way to resolve this?
Last year, COVID-19 caused an average of 48 shops, restaurants and other leisure and hospitality venues to close permanently every day across England, Wales and Scotland. With a high number of empty units available, could repurposing the high street provide a better and safer solution to retirement housing?
As reports of isolation are increasing, many of the retired generation are now seeking out sociable communities within close proximity of a town or city centre. Being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of town life offers the opportunity to take advantage of shops, restaurants and other cultural activities.
While car parking is often high up on the list of requirements for retirement living, building these communities close to all the necessary amenities reduces the reliance placed on motor cars by the older generation and could therefore be argued is more sustainable in the long run.
However, city centre sites can be considerably harder to deliver from a construction perspective.
In the event a building is listed, developers will need to make extra considerations. As well as ensuring the basic requirements for retirement-friendly housing are met, such as accessible entrances and elevators, developers will also need to work within the existing infrastructure which can be more costly in the long term.
Nevertheless, despite these challenges, repurposing the high street for later living provides overwhelmingly positive benefits for the whole community.
Integrating a community within a community
When introducing any new building, it is important to get the support of the wider community, to avoid any issues or objections down the line.
Not only could the construction process result in some disruption, but the building design could also negatively impact existing residents and surrounding businesses. As a result, opening up a line of communication with the local authority and local residents beforehand would provide vital feedback on the project.
Carrying out prior research can also help to tackle any feelings of negativity towards the project and ensure that the location and building is in fact right for the retirement and wider community.
Although repurposing high street buildings for later living is still a relatively new concept, it could offer a viable way forward. Utilising empty units could not only indirectly benefit the NHS and help tackle loneliness, but it could also provide a safe and comfortable living experience for the retired generation.
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