Flexible living to Age in Place

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Engineering and Environment



The housing market in the UK does not respond to the challenges of growing old. Many people struggle with ageing; a principal concern is their housing environment, (Hayes, 2018). The Government concedes that there is a housing crisis and has committed 44bn to fixing the problem. Their focus, however, has been on supply rather than how these houses serve the needs of society, particularly for older people. The housing sector continues to build houses that are very difficult to adapt; it does not utilise the significant building and digital innovations developed in this area in recent years that could enable people to Age in Place. Digital and sensor technology- as well as adaptability innovations through Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)- have the capacity to be game changing. These technologies could enable the domestic environment, both new and existing, to be tailored to support the particular needs of the occupant, so that they could remain independent and to live in their homes for as long as possible. Integration of this technology would represent a significant individual and societal financial saving and reduce the heartache and stress of a change of environment and lifestyle late in life. According to Age Concern, if houses could be more easily adapted and residential care postponed, there could be a saving of £26,000 per person/year through avoidance of care costs. In the UK, there are very few developers supplying houses for older people, as they are deemed to be expensive and are less efficient in terms of space than typical housing solutions, (Docking, 2019). The literature also suggests that older people do not want to be isolated away from younger people, living in retirement ghettos. Therefore, ageing in place- supported by well-designed homes that are accessible, adaptable and technology-enabled- must be the aim within the sector.

This project has been offered seven plots in Seaham Garden Village- an innovative housing scheme of 1500 houses. The industrial partners have set aside £560K (80K/house) of the £1.4 million budget to dedicate to technical innovation to support independent living and integrate well-being and care services to older people. This high-profile housing development is a collaboration between private developers (IDP Partnership, Plan B, Tolent, Karbon Homes (supported by Homes England) and Northumbria University. The ambition here is to use the catalyst grant, if successful, to bring together a co-design team that is comprised of healthcare practitioners, architects, designers, building users and academics (with expertise in architecture, health, gerontology, computer science and software engineering) to design these tech-enabled prototype houses.

These dwellings are a unique opportunity to explore how digital sensor-based technology and adaptive technologies can be incorporated in the domestic environment, both new build and existing houses through integration of actuators, modern communication systems, information devices, environmental and wearable medical sensors as well as demountable technologies. These houses will be transformed into flexible supportive environments across the life course. The team will have the expertise to establish digital models to test the innovation prior to the houses being built; the true validation of the research will be seen in the application, testing and monitoring of the technology, once the houses are built as part of Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) and Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) using the accelerator funding if successful.

The anticipated outcomes from the catalyst funding will include: 1) Co-design of 'adaptable homes'; 2) exploring sensor and adaptive technologies and how they can be embedded in the designs; 3) develop market knowledge to inform scalability and determine routes to market beyond the Garden Village. 4) establishing an approach to retrofitting existing properties.


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Title Contributor to exhibition at the V&A Scotland on designs that enable people to age better 
Description This is an exhibition of work at the V&A Scotland showcasing products design with the Elders Council and the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, working with the design consultancy, Pentagram. The products were developed to help older people work efficiently at home establishing low cost pop up offices within the domestic environment. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2023 
Impact The exhibition only finished in Jan 2023 so the impacts have been limited thus far, but the exhibition has led to further collaborations. 
Description There has been many achievements and positive outcomes that have resulted from the above grant. The first, and most significant, is that the multidisciplinary team- working with the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, the Elders Council and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists- have co-designed five innovative house designs, and technical details, to be integrated into South Seaham Garden Village in County Durham. These houses are underpinned by Ageing in Place strategies, considering themes around multigenerational living, downsizing, home working for older people, supporting people with reduced cognitive functions, digital and physical connectivity, and alleviating loneliness for older people. These houses are M42 (Building Regulations) and Lifetime Homes compliant, achieved within the very modest National Described Space Standards footprint- ensuring that they are commercially viable and thus maximising their likelihood of being built beyond the Garden Village.

These houses have been very well received and the team are in discussion with other developers and local councils about how this work can inform their future housing developments to improve their response to the challenges of ageing and 'Ageing Better' strategies. This body of work is going to be exhibited at the National Innovation Centre for Ageing in their main gallery in the second week of May 2022. (This date has been moved from Feb to May, due to a backlog of exhibition as a result of COVID) The exhibition will include architectural models of each house, drawings and information on the themes and exploration and the co-design process. There has been two additional successful funding applications, another exhibition at the Design museum, two international conference keynotes.

The project met all its intended outcomes (as per the next question) except for the final one which was to submit an application to the follow-on Accelerator Fund, which unfortunately was cancelled by UKRI due to issues with international partners.
Exploitation Route The team have developed four routes to take the work forward and have impact:

1. Through the South Seaham Garden Village (the focus of the original application). This exercise is underway with Karbon Homes (the Registered Social Landlord) and their architects to work together to integrate the work into the various housing zones that make up the development. This work will impact up to 500 homes dedicated to older people within the village.
2. We are working with Building Design North, as a result of the project outcomes (seen through regional presentation) to inform the assistive living provision in the City of Sunderland and borough Barrow in Furness (in the Northwest of England) on two Local Authority Frameworks. We have recently been successful in a two-year KTP with Building Design North to integrate the principles of the prototypes into these frameworks. Ref: KTP013179
3. The team were successful in acquiring further funding from the Design Age Institute/ Research England for £50K to develop the Flexible Homes prototypes further, particularly the home that considered 'working beyond retirement age' model.
4. On the outskirts of Newcastle city centre, there is extensive 29 acre planned development called the Centre for Ageing and Vitality to provide a range of housing, support facilities for people at different stages of their lives, including health and commercial facilities for an intergenerational community. The team have met the Prof. Jane Robinson and Prof. Michael Capaldi PVCs at Newcastle University who are leading the development of this site. They are interested to integrate some of our strategies into the development, particularly in relation to the 'digital connectivity' of older people.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction

URL http://www.rca.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/design-age-institute-launches-six-pathfinder-projects-including-a-birdsong-app-for-hearing-health-cargo-carrying-robots-and-flexible-homes/https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/planning-construction-news/northumbria-university-work-from-home-house-prototype/107168/
Description Influencing Design of Housing for Older people in Sunderland
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or improved professional practice
Impact Sunderland Council have a better understanding of the needs of older people within their domestic environment and the research is challenging their approach to providing housing and care related services. The specific impact relates to layout of homes the research showed 70+ design flaws for older in a volume housebuilder home, that we have designed out in the homes that Sunderland are now building. This will significantly reduce the burden on local care facilities and the NHS because these homes will solve many of the issues to do with accessibility etc that older people have when leaving hospital after illness or injury. These houses will also reduce the need to go into residential care, as they promote independence. The houses have been designed by architects working with healthcare practitioners and older people groups.
Description Northumbria University and Kingfield Developments KTP 22-23 R3
Amount £190,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2023 
End 03/2025
Description Karbon Homes, who are the principal Registered Social Landlord/Housing Association at the Garden Village. 
Organisation Karbon Homes Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have collaborated with Karbon Homes on the design of the prototypes and how our research work could have most impact in the Garden Village. What we have achieved during the project has been described elsewhere (so as to avoid duplication as per guidance)
Collaborator Contribution Karbon Homes are overseeing the management of 500 homes in the garden village, and are strategically invested in the rest of the site, so they have an overview as how to best integrate our work into the development and wider infrastructure. Their collaboration is therefore essential. With the ambitions of the village to be innovative and 'of the time' some of the ideas about digital connectivity and smart infrastructure have been championed by Karbon Homes. They are a research and development organization in their own right, so have situated knowledge regarding the requirements of older people, so our collaboration was very useful as they don't have the health and computer science/smart technology backgrounds within their teams.
Impact House designs discussed previously.
Start Year 2021
Description Sunderland Council 
Organisation Sunderland City Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Research undertaken in the Flexible Homes Award is being used to improve the housing provision for older people in Sunderland as part of a £70 million framework. We are inputting directly a £70 million framework for Sunderland Council on housing for older people. The council are keen that this, once in a generation, investment for older people can be future-proofed and can lead to flag-ship developments that are transformative for people. The research team are directly embedding their research into house designs and the community/public realm that the homes sit within. We are looking at new building typologies on 'step down' and 'step up' care from- or to- the NHS services.
Collaborator Contribution Supporting the research through their support of its application to the £70million housing framework; supporting the KTP as a partner in the application working with Building Design Northern.This work has been formally embedded into the framework through follow on funding (a knowledge transfer partnership with Building Design Northern). This framework is an excellent way to have real impact from the research and the team are influencing the work of an architectural practice who have an additional £50 million pounds of other frameworks, where this research can have impact. The PI (Jones) and the CI(Cook) have been invited onto the advisory panel for the Campus for Ageing Better development. This project is a £150 million residential and community project in Newcastle and will be internationally significant for ageing. Again the research undertaken from the Flexible Homes project is having influence of the brief to be submitted to tenderers to improve the domestic environment
Impact Nine Housing Projects in Sunderland are planned through the framework, each with the Flexible Living outcomes embedded in the work. The research was multi-disciplinary, including expertise from architecture, health, gerontology, smart and digital technology. Impact will be extensive once the framework projects are built. Several of the projects are now in planning and have budgets agreed.
Start Year 2022