Multiple Generations living under one roof

Multiple Generations

I’ve recently caught up with ‘Old People’s Home for 4yr Olds’ on Channel 4. If you’ve not caught sight of this yet, the program charts the outcomes of a social experiment whereby pre-school age children spend regular time with the inhabitants of the UK’s largest Retirement Village, Lark Hill, in Nottingham. To achieve this a nursery was created within the village

Even without extensive post show analysis, it is clear that both age groups benefit from the interaction. The senior group experience improvements in the areas of cognitive ability, memory and physical mobility. The children gain insight from a social group who has time to give, learning kindness, social interaction skills and a broader understanding of the mix of our population.

With the birth of the ‘Nuclear Family’ in the UK, a whole generation found that they had the income to own property at a younger age, could easily commute to where they worked and were no longer tied to the rest of their family. This left grandparents / parents to fend for themselves in later life, the family home being used to pay for this retirement. Now it seems we all work long hours and commute even further afield, the upshot being that we spend a considerable amount of money on childcare at one end of the spectrum, and sometimes old-age care at the other end.

The social experiment demonstrated in this TV series opens up questions for me about how we could rethink this model in the future, especially when there appears to be so much to be gained by all parties. Might we see integrated social ‘villages’ in the future, where assisted residential accommodation of all types might be mixed and integrated so that the benefits of shared experience can be fully appreciated? Once anyone mixes only within a defined social group they can become more introspective.

Another way of looking at the issue may already be manifesting itself courtesy of the difficulty in getting onto the property ladder. Many would-be first-time buyers find the process financially impossible until they are well into their 30’s or 40’s. So, the market place is now seeing multiple generation property purchases taking place. In theory this provides on-site childcare, increased disposable income for the household, mental and physical stimulation for the grandparents and social / emotional skills for the youngest generation.

With this in mind, are we actually designing and supplying the right mix of new residential properties for the marketplace at present? If this is a workable model we should be considering building larger properties on larger plots, with scope for adaption and enlargement, or purpose built with at least one bedroom on the ground floor as well as an accessible bathroom. With more and more of us working from home, this may become more and more appealing as a prospect for some of us. Surely shared purchasing could support the naturally higher price tag?

However, I don’t see this as a cure-all solution. Personally, I thrive on being part of a team and the stimulation that brings, so for me, for the majority of the working week, I need to be in an office. Likewise, young children can benefit hugely from the social interaction that comes from being around their pier group at nursery or preschool, making the transition to school less stressful.

What I think we are looking for is flexibility in our new housing stock. The option for generations to be able to cohabit and for wage earners to work and study from home. Quality spaces that people are happy to spend time in and use in different ways. A consideration for how our physical abilities and level of support might change. These homes should then be supported by carefully planned social hubs, combining a mix of residential care and preschool learning that allows for the direct mixing of these two ends of the age spectrum.

For further reading see the link below to the work going on at the St Monica Trust.

Dale's experience spans a wide range of project sectors, sizes and stages and has particular interests in environmental design and earth-sheltered construction. His favourite projects reuse and breathe new life into under-loved existing buildings.