Flexible living to age in place

Well-designed homes that are adaptable and technology-enabled can help older people stay living independently longer within their community (i.e. to age in place). This partnership between Northumbria University and housing developers explores how adaptive building technologies and modern communication systems can be incorporated into both new-build and existing homes.


Catalyst R1

Lead Organisation

Northumbria University


North East (England)


Design for Age friendly homes

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About the project

The housing market in the UK does not respond to the challenges of growing old. Many people struggle with ageing; a principal concern is their housing environment, (Hayes, 2018). The Government concedes that there is a housing crisis and has committed 44bn to fixing the problem. Their focus, however, has been on supply rather than how these houses serve the needs of society, particularly for older people.

The housing sector continues to build houses that are very difficult to adapt; it does not utilise the significant building and digital innovations developed in this area in recent years that could enable people to Age in Place. Digital and sensor technology- as well as adaptability innovations through Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)- have the capacity to be game changing. These technologies could enable the domestic environment, both new and existing, to be tailored to support the particular needs of the occupant, so that they could remain independent and to live in their homes for as long as possible. Integration of this technology would represent a significant individual and societal financial saving and reduce the heartache and stress of a change of environment and lifestyle late in life. According to Age Concern, if houses could be more easily adapted and residential care postponed, there could be a saving of £26,000 per person/year through avoidance of care costs.

In the UK, there are very few developers supplying houses for older people, as they are deemed to be expensive and are less efficient in terms of space than typical housing solutions, (Docking, 2019). The literature also suggests that older people do not want to be isolated away from younger people, living in retirement ghettos. Therefore, ageing in place- supported by well-designed homes that are accessible, adaptable and technology-enabled- must be the aim within the sector.

This project has been offered seven plots in Seaham Garden Village- an innovative housing scheme of 1500 houses. The industrial partners have set aside £560K (80K/house) of the £1.4 million budget to dedicate to technical innovation to support independent living and integrate well-being and care services to older people. This high-profile housing development is a collaboration between private developers (IDP Partnership, Plan B, Tolent, Karbon Homes (supported by Homes England) and Northumbria University.

The ambition here is to use the catalyst grant, if successful, to bring together a co-design team that is comprised of healthcare practitioners, architects, designers, building users and academics (with expertise in architecture, health, gerontology, computer science and software engineering) to design these tech-enabled prototype houses. These dwellings are a unique opportunity to explore how digital sensor-based technology and adaptive technologies can be incorporated in the domestic environment, both new build and existing houses through integration of actuators, modern communication systems, information devices, environmental and wearable medical sensors as well as demountable technologies. These houses will be transformed into flexible supportive environments across the life course.

The team will have the expertise to establish digital models to test the innovation prior to the houses being built; the true validation of the research will be seen in the application, testing and monitoring of the technology, once the houses are built as part of Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) and Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) using the accelerator funding if successful.

The anticipated outcomes from the catalyst funding will include:

  1. Co-design of ‘adaptable homes’;
  2. Exploring sensor and adaptive technologies and how they can be embedded in the designs;
  3. Develop market knowledge to inform scalability and determine routes to market beyond the Garden Village.
  4. Establishing an approach to retrofitting existing properties.

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