Housing LIN Conference

Last Wednesday I attended the Annual Housing LIN Conference (Learning and Improvement Network – yes I didn’t have a clue what LIN meant either until I got involved). It really is a fascinating space mainly inhabited by Housing Associations but increasing by local government, and commercial developers as well.

The conference was focused on ExtraCare Housing a particular passion of mine and very much part of the future as I see it; we were talking all things ExtraCare and its role in our communities with the plenary and break out workshops discussed all types and scales of developments and very importantly how we can fund them in these increasingly difficult times.

It’s often said in Local Government that housing is important which it is, but none more so than as we plan for our Ageing population, slowly there is a dawning that we can’t afford as a nation to care for the increase numbers of older people as we have to date, the NHS is creaking under the strain as is social care. The solution is relatively simple, we must significant improve the health of the nation and we must make offers of housing which people, self-funders and those we support, feel its somewhere they want to live rather than the ‘abandon all hope thee who enter here’ that seems to be the mind set when people think about retirement living complex’s. We should enjoy and aspire in all the stages of our lives, and that includes our housing.

Equally the suitability of where you live can have a profound affect on your health and well-being in other words your quality of life. It’s not just about what you can afford it’s about the range of suitable housing available in your area to suit your needs.

As we get older if you own your own home, that family house has probably changed from being the family home to being a burden, too big, too much upkeep in terms of cleaning and the garden and you need to be thinking about your future care needs. Yet most people hang on in there partially about not accepting the passing of time and frankly looking in most areas as the poor alternatives. The notion of old peoples housing complex fills most people with dread. Yet the best of ExtraCare is somewhere to aspire to and get on with enjoying your life rather than tackling the weeds.

At the other end of the scale if you have rented your home all your life as we get older there will be another family who will benefit from the space, so if choices are available then you can think about moving to something more suitable and you can be thinking about your future care needs.

ExtraCare Housing provides a setting usually two bedrooms where couple can live their older age out in comfort with support that will reflect their care journey; one of the hidden scandals of the way we have care today is that unlike 30 years ago where the men died first, today couples are embarking on their care journey’s and will probably finish it being separated.

When I get old, if I am frail I don’t want a room next to my partners I want a home where all my chattels are about us, our kettle, our toaster; Lisa and I may be too frail to use them and carers may come in and bring us our meals but we will have our own front door and if our care needs demand we’ll have our own bedrooms but we’ll be together in our own home. If I get dementia then my care journey will be quite different and eventually I will need a different environment to live out my life in comfort and safety.

The way care is organised today will change because people will demand it changes.

Also in a rural community we need as many people as possible to want to come together as the sheer number of care packages and rural travelling will make the costs and indeed the number of people required to provide it, un-sustainable.

That why ExtraCare Housing is so important and should be a part of every planning authorities understanding and responsibility sadly in so few it barely gets a mention in a sea of papers and strategy documents and this has to change.

Two years ago I launch Suffolk Flexicare and last year I hosted Jeremy Porteus the national director and the regional Housing LIN in Suffolk, where we spoke of Suffolk Flexicare and was delight to see the new national toolkit around ExtraCare builds on the work we have done in Suffolk.

To create a critical mass and expand the market to meet the demand of older people two things needs to happen, and I am obviously interested in a Council’s role in both!

One is the culture and understanding and Suffolk Flexicare seeks to create this and the other is funding.

And funding is a big problem, ExtraCare housing is not like normal development where you can build a few, sell them and move on to the next phase, by its very nature it has to be up and running before anyone moves in. It’s capital intensive and to date has been focused on the purely social sector which whilst there can be some revenue the capital remains firmly locked in.

So the real highlight of the conference was when speakers talked about the model moving to mixed tenure models; a private flat next to social rented one thus capital can be released as there is sale revenue and capital can then be used to develop the next scheme. Even more fascinating concepts came from people like Nick Abbey Chief Executive of ExtraCare Charitable Trust who spoke of the ability to have 20% social rented units entirely paid for by the private element of a large scale development like the Care Villages they are developing. He also talked about their Locksmiths programme, their dedicated dementia support workers.

I had a long chat with Nick and whilst we had never met before it was staggering the people we knew! He is the former chief Executive of Herewood Housing we had a good chat about the joys of waiting for trains on Ely station as the wind sweeps across. We talked about their company and he mentioned their scheme in Milton Keynes and I talked about the medical centre I was building for a client a couple of hundred yards away and so I watched their scheme being built – a very small world sometimes.

Nick announced the formation ARCO – Associated Retirement Community Operators – and he was so right when he said ‘Outside of environments like this, the sheer lack of knowledge about what we are trying to do is clear’.

It’s ‘horses for courses’ and different scales of development will suit different locations but the way forward is for Suffolk County Council and Suffolk District/Borough Councils to play their part, getting the culture and understanding in place so housing associations and development companies can meet the growing demand that will come.

The schemes are not for everyone and many older people will want to live as they always have but the key is to make the offer available to people so they have choice and can aspire in their future for the housing that they want to live in.

About askcolinnoble
I'm a Conservative politician-lite, I dabble a bit in Party Politics with my main focus of working hard and being a strong voice for my community making sure local government delivers quality services and fellow residents get value for money for their hard earned money they pay in Council tax | Where this Gravatar appears and I am expressing my views or liking something I do so in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Suffolk County Council, Forest Heath District Council, the Conservative Party or come to think of it anyone else | But having said the above at an election time and to stay legal anything I write is promoted by Kerry Buist on behalf of Colin Noble, both at West Suffolk Conservative Association, Unit 8, Swan Lane Business Park, Exning, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7FN

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