Lorna Cameron: Inclusive housing design innovators are building a better future

Lorna Cameron: Inclusive housing design innovators are building a better future

Lorna Cameron

In the run-up to the Scottish Home Awards 2024, Lorna Cameron, CEO of Horizon Housing Association, says organisations pioneering accessible and inclusive housing hold the key to a more equal and sustainable housing future.

A quiet but remarkable revolution is underway as new homes spring up across Scotland from rural Highland locations to city streets, creating inspiring examples of excellence in accessible and inclusive housing design. These cleverly-designed houses are transforming people’s lives in far-reaching ways that hold important lessons on sustainability for not just housing but also for social care and health.

This year Horizon (part of Link Group) wants to recognise the largely unsung achievements of the inspired and committed architects, housing developers, builders, local authorities and housing associations that are leading the way in accessible and inclusive homes.

We are promoting the new Excellence in Accessibility and Inclusion award category in the Scottish Home Awards 2024 to recognise the achievements of trailblazers. We need more role models and champions for inclusive design if we are to bring about much-needed change. We are particularly keen to see examples of affordable innovation that can be applied at scale across the sector.

As a housing association serving a tenant community of whom 76% have some form of disability or long-term health condition, inclusive design is an issue we know well – and why we are advocating for change.

We have documented heart-rending stories of tenants’ experiences before securing an accessible property. They include young disabled children being separated from their parents and unable to leave hospital, young men and women living in older people care homes, people with dementia living in properties without adequate safeguards, and carers lacking basic adaptations they need to carry out daily tasks such as bathing safely.

We urge organisations taking a lead in designing, planning, funding and building accessible and adaptable homes to share their stories so that policymakers can truly understand the transformative power of inclusive design.

Exciting projects range from modest homes built for disabled people and their families to multi-million pound council-backed developments and visionary ‘lifetime neighbourhoods.’ A promising project pipeline is in place, with some still in planning and design stages, while others are mid-build or already inhabited.

Design specifications, locations, architects, builders, budgets and styles vary, but they share a vital common characteristic: accessibility, inclusion and sustainability are designed in from day one, empowering people to live independently, even as they get older or their lives change.

Housing is not just an important business sector – it is a human right. We all deserve homes that are responsive, flexible and welcoming throughout our lives.

A slew of sobering statistics underline why investment in accessible and inclusive design is vital. Our population is ageing rapidly and we are living for longer too, which means homes must be able to adapt as our needs change so that people can remain living independently at home for as long possible.

By 2033 there is forecast to be a 50% increase in the number of citizens aged 60 and over in Scotland – that is less than 10 years away. An older population brings complex health and care challenges which inclusive adaptive housing design can help address – but only if we take a joined-up approach and involve health and care experts in the design process.

Research in Australia, where universal/inclusive design standards are mandatory, demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the cost in terms of reduced health and care costs versus additional investment in accessible housing.

Dementia-friendly design is an area where we are seeing much innovation and enlightened thinking. It matters because the number of adults living with dementia worldwide is on course to nearly triple to 153 million by 2050.

Design must carefully consider use of colour, pattern, texture and layout as people with dementia may have different sensory perceptions. That can mean reflective surfaces for example are confusing, while simple colour-coding on walls, doors and cupboards can be invaluable orientation aids.

Good design is inclusive design – people need space to turn in hallways and doorways whether or not they are disabled. It helps parents trying to turn a large pram, non-disabled people who may break a leg, or anyone with disabled friends and visitors. We are keen to see innovative use of all aspects of design from space to light, digital aids, outdoor areas and shared space.

There is a wealth of expert design guidance available, from dementia-friendly design tools developed by Stirling University, to guidelines from the Royal Institute of British Architects, Housing LIN (Learning and Improvement Network), DesHCA (Designing Homes for Healthy Cognitive Ageing) and numerous other sources including the early Housing for Varying Needs report.

We encourage collaboration between professionals from different disciplines as sharing knowledge and expertise can elevate a design from good to ground-breaking.

When the award winner at the Scottish Home Awards 20024 is announced in June, we hope it will be the first of many projects recognised as pioneers in much-needed accessible and inclusive design.

*Deadline for submissions to Excellence in Accessibility and Inclusion category of Scottish Home Awards: 1200 GMT Wednesday March 20th.

Apply here


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