By Emma Lindley, HQN Associate

See the person, not their age. This was one of the key themes throughout the “supporting residents in supported housing” event that the Housing Management Network recently hosted and which I had the pleasure of chairing.

A brilliant line up of speakers took us through many parts of the vast world of supported housing and inevitably there was a focus on housing and support for older people. And I found myself asking, why do we designate some services based on a person’s age? With more and more people living until they are 100, do we need to rethink how we define “older people”?

A key driver of the event was a recent discussion at the Network’s Best Practice Group on the problems that arise in sheltered housing schemes, that are themselves entering old age, as it becomes more and more common that three generations with a range of lifestyles and support needs are living side by side.

We of course discussed the failures of national policy, the shortage of housing and funding and the changing needs and wants of our ageing population, but there was no shortage of examples and suggestions of how to develop housing options that work really well for mixed communities.

We heard from two of our speakers on how to embrace multi-generational living and design this into your portfolio of housing options, rather than focus on providing small flats for people to live in in isolation. Valerie Billings kindly shared her personal experience of growing up in a multi-generational household and how she is planning to return to this way of living. Valerie also shared research that demonstrated many others are considering, or would consider, doing the same, and of course we know that younger people are living with their family until a much older age. Valerie encouraged us all to embrace this as a housing option, to have homes available that can be used for larger families and to support residents to consider and plan for this way of living.

We also heard examples from Orbit of supported housing schemes where three generations of the same family live in the same development, each with the home and the support that meets their needs, each with their own space but with their family nearby. Orbit are seeing more and more people with learning disabilities moving into their extra care schemes, as a result of life expectancy improving for this group, but as older parents are no longer able to care for them. We again remind ourselves to see the person, not their age.

And we continued to remind ourselves of this as we discussed work in Greater Manchester to provide housing and support for those who have been rough sleeping, whose average life expectancy is nowhere near 100.

Despite the range of topics that our speakers were covering, all nine of them highlighted a core message that we must speak to our residents to understand how they want to live now and in the future, to ensure we have housing options to meet their individual aspirations and that we assist them to plan and navigate these options. Not all our residents have access to, or are confident using the internet; most people don’t know what extra care or supported housing is; and only a few of us are planning ahead for the last home we want to live in.

The event ended with a mini-masterclass in preventing and tackling cuckooing and the question I found myself asking at the end of the day was how many issues like cuckooing and ASB are a result of a mismatch between the housing and support offered and what the resident actually needs? How many problems do we create by putting square pegs in round holes? Let’s all commit to see the person, to listen to them and to ensure there are great housing options available to them.