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Queen’s research to help build better homes for older people

Research carried out for the Changing Ageing Partnership (CAP) has found that those who design and plan sheltered accommodation in Northern Ireland could do more to meet the needs of the residents who live there.

The research, entitled Better Housing for the Ageing Population in Northern Ireland, was conducted by Dr Karim Hadjri a senior lecturer from the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queen’s University.

Dr Hadjri said: “The Essential Role of Sheltered Housing Northern Ireland - the consortium of sheltered housing providers - estimates that housing associations in Northern Ireland provide over 10,000 sheltered flats and bungalows for older or disabled people. This is a third of their overall stock of social rented housing. Many older people rely on this accommodation to allow them to maintain their independence, whilst having easy access to support and assistance.

“There are over 300 sheltered housing schemes in Northern Ireland registered with the Elderly accommodation Council. This research aimed to find out whether or not this accommodation meets their needs, and outlines how sheltered housing can be made as accessible, safe and comfortable as possible for residents.

“It seems that older people who live in sheltered accommodation are generally satisfied with their homes, particularly with the level of comfort and safety and the standard of private areas, such as bedrooms and bathrooms.

“They are less satisfied, however, with communal areas, such as living areas and gardens. There are also concerns about the layout of some accommodation, the accessibility and ease of use of kitchens and storage areas, the standard of alarm systems, noise levels and temperature.

“Whilst some sheltered accommodation developments in Northern Ireland are of a very high standard, others show room for improvement. 10 out of the 26 buildings surveyed during this research were less than satisfactory. Older people deserve to feel happy, comfortable and safe in their homes, and some simple modifications can help ensure that this is the case.

“Using clear signage and coded colour schemes to denote areas that are used for different purposes would make it much easier for older people to find their way around buildings.

“Providing space for residents to personalise their homes with their own furniture and decorations allows them to put their own mark on their flat or bungalow. Locating sheltered housing within established neighbourhoods and close to amenities, such as shops, post offices and religious buildings, also helps older people feel like they belong to the local community. This allows them to enjoy an active social life as they get older, minimising the risk that they will become lonely or isolated.

“Providing effective alarm systems, good lighting and easy access to emergency doors also helps older residents feel safe at home. This should therefore be a feature of every sheltered accommodation development.

“Along with existing regulations, this research can help inform the development of further guidance for those who plan housing for older people, ensuring that they have the comfortable, secure and accessible living space that they deserve.”

Vice Chancellor of Queen’s, Professor Peter Gregson, said: “This research is the fourth study to have been completed by Queen’s on behalf of the Changing Ageing Partnership, through the Institute of Governance in the School of Law.

“Funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, CAP helps us understand more about people’s attitudes to ageing and challenge the negative stereotypes of ageing that exist in our society. Research is an essential step towards that fuller understanding and provides a basis for further developments.”

Joan Cosgrove from Newtownabbey Senior Citizen’s Forum said: “This research is of utmost importance, because it involved and informs those who it was researching. I hope that the Assembly takes it on board and acts upon it.”

The research report will be launched on Thursday 22 May at 12.15pm at the Institute of Governance at Queen’s University, 63 University Road, Belfast.

Lisa Mitchell | alfa
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