Intergenerational Communities and Later Living.

Not only is the UK’s population ageing, but the gap between younger and older generations is becoming increasingly divided. What was once the norm in society for generations to be intermixed has now become unheard of. With the focus on new housing for first-time buyers, those in the third age can expect to be placed in isolated retirement villages, set apart from the local community with little day-to-day engagement with other age groups.

Creating intergenerational communities, where people of all ages can interact, has significant benefits to the overall wellbeing and social connectedness of towns and cities. It also helps members in later life to continue to feel a valued part of their local communities. According to a paper from the University of Cambridge this, in turn, offers those individuals supported interdependence, meaningful interactions, and the confidence to try new things.

Without this continued social connectedness beyond retirement, loneliness is an almost inevitable consequence. Age UK reports that ‘persistent loneliness can have a significant negative impact on well-being and quality of life’. What is more, in 2019 there were almost 4.5 million older people who claim to be lonely in the UK, with over half a million of those claiming it stops them going out and about in everyday life. As a very real social issue, it is vital that we create communities with social connectedness and interaction at the forefront of the design, to help reduce this isolation in older people. By creating intergenerational community gardens, libraries, public parks and retail spaces as part of these developments, we can increase cross-generational interaction and encourage a more balanced society in general.

Reducing loneliness amongst older people will then have a positive impact on overall wellbeing: improving mood and mental health, and alleviating strain according to the NHS. Residents in retirement communities are 80% less likely to enter a hospital and 50% less likely to see a GP, resulting in an overall cost fall of 38% to the NHS for people living in retirement communities – a saving of £1,100 per person per year.

One way of achieving this is by creating mix-use areas in urban environments. These areas boast shared services (e.g. healthcare centres) alongside the later living options, which encourage increased social connections. Adding a weekend market, commuter route or a gym facility to a mix-use community area can quickly influence people’s daily activities and routines within a city. In doing so, we can then begin to reduce age segregation and decrease isolation in the third age.

Designing communities fit for both old and young not only increases social connectedness, but also creates liveable communities that are cost-effective shared spaces. The economic value to the community in creating facilities and activities that benefit young and old is invaluable – as resources and urban spaces can be pooled together more effectively.

Utilising the knowledge of older people within the community also provides planners and designers with real-life knowledge of how communities work, and helps us to understand the key issues to create ageless spaces. Including the older generation in planning and design ensures that communities are designed with their unique, real-life needs at heart. This community involvement can also help to increase the self-worth of the older people involved, providing them with a sense of purpose through witnessing the lasting impact they can have on their local areas.

Clearly intergenerational living can have a multitude of benefits: reducing individual isolation at a personal level, to improving the urban environment more broadly. A society that values quality human relationships, but also helps to create versatile, meaningful, age-friendly urban spaces is one that we should all be aiming for.

Professor Malcom Johnson


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