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Managing Accommodation Needs for Older People – Providing more choice of accommodation for the over 55s

To provide more choices of accommodation for our senior residents Central Bedfordshire Council developed a strategic vision to meet the accommodation needs of older people by building a substantial number of independent living apartments.


Central Bedfordshire, located in the heart of the UK, is predominantly a rural area and one of considerable growth, with new housing developments planned, a growing housing waiting list and, a growing and ageing population.


To provide more choices of accommodation for our senior residents the council developed a strategic vision to meet the accommodation needs of older people by building a substantial number of independent living apartments. We also see an additional benefit to increasing the number of much-needed general needs housing by people freeing up homes through “right-sizing”.

We feel that having suitable housing can be a very significant contributor to ageing well and believe that ‘Independent living is not your last move, it’s your best move.’

We are also now part way through a programme to replace the capacity in the seven older person’s homes we inherited from Bedfordshire County Council in 2009 when we became a unitary authority.

However, since the closure of the third care home, whilst the market continues to bring forward new care homes in areas of high demand, increasingly, those operators are focusing attention on the self-funder market and the significantly higher fee rates that such residents pay. 

The challenge

•    Until recently, Central Bedfordshire Council operated seven outdated and high-energy using care homes. 

•    A growing ageing population with a need to ensure that there is access to enough good quality care at an affordable cost. 

•    A challenging situation to find enough care providers willing to accept customers at the council’s rate. 

•    Growing waiting list for general needs houses with family homes in short supply.

•    A lack of choice of accommodation for senior residents wishing to “right-size” to more suitable homes especially if they are keen to stay in the area where they can retain existing social contacts. 


The solution

The development of our independent living schemes is at the forefront of our strategy to provide more accommodation choice locally for older people. Our Independent Living Schemes are designed to develop and encourage mixed and vibrant communities. Our customers’ care needs are varied and can range from those with high care needs to be as with more than 21 hours per week to those who have no assessed care needs at all but could benefit from this type of accommodation. 

This type of living will secure the health and wellbeing of all our residents within Central Bedfordshire where a range of solutions is required, and the council has taken a proactive role in facilitating that change whilst also promoting innovation. 

Schemes focused on customers aged 55 and over that provide good quality homes with a focus on ‘living longer better’ gives potential applicants the confidence to relocate to accommodation that will meet their future needs and hopefully become their ‘lifetime home’. This has supported our drive to encourage residents to ‘right size’ and free up family-sized accommodation for those in housing need. Each scheme has led to general needs housing becoming available for families. It is important to the council that is plans for all tenures: affordable rent, shared ownership and marketing sales to meet the needs of its residents.

The council has set out significant commitment and demonstrated leadership in responding to the challenges of an ageing population through a sizeable investment programme and market influence to enable the ongoing delivery of independent living accommodation and in supporting the development of health care infrastructure for its population. 

The council also fosters good relationships with other providers to ensure that older people of all tenures can have an opportunity to “right-size” and take advantage of living in a safe, shared community with help on hand when, and if, needed. 

Our approach to care homes has been to encourage care home operators to develop new homes in Central Bedfordshire and then to provide enough places to allow us to consider the replacement of a nearby council-run home. For four of the outdated care homes, we negotiated additional capacity with the private sector and for the other three, we have shifted our attention to the council designing and constructing its own care homes to make more provision. This has enabled us to reflect other council priorities, including wellbeing, community cohesion and sustainability.

Our first newly built replacement care home is, Marigold House in Leighton Buzzard, which is due to open in 2023 closely followed by Steppingley Road an older person’s village in 2024. These developments will provide 135 care home place and 88 independent living homes. Both homes will be designed to Passivhaus standards, reducing energy use and will be dementia-friendly. 

As well as actively supporting the independent market, the council takes its responsibility very seriously to provide care for those who cannot afford it. To us that also means ensuring good quality environments through well-designed and constructed homes. The council responded to the challenges in the care market by investing capital to build new care homes and establishing a care company to deliver care. 

So, in October 2019 Central Bedfordshire Council Executive approved the creation of a company, wholly owned by the council, to deliver care services and, in June 2020, the council set up Care Is Central as part of The Central Bedfordshire Group.  The company is now registered with the Care Quality Commission and is operational.

The reasons for the council creating Care is Central are to:

•    maintain access to good quality social care provision for the people of Central Bedfordshire at a reasonable cost

•    enable more care services to be delivered in ways that give the people who use this choice and control

•    facilitate the delivery of new care homes and other types of care services for old.

The impact

We recognise the value of this investment and the advantages it brings to all our residents that including direct benefits to the people who live in our developments, but also the benefits to taxpayers associated with the reduction in costs of delivering social care and health in the area. 

Independent living schemes support our agenda to reduce social isolation, promote independence and enable people to live good lives. We know this reduces the demand for health and care interventions in primary care, in hospitals and care homes. 

Colleagues work in partnership across housing, adult social care and health and more recently with the council’s care company, Care Is Central, to ensure that our residents’ needs are met and any changes that could negatively impact their wellbeing are identified and resolved quickly. We adopt a holistic approach to people.

We also know that there is also now good evidence that in later life, unsuitable housing can contribute to physical and social isolation, the consequences of which can be an avoidable deterioration in both physical and mental health. Access to services and increasing social isolation can be a problem for some older residents in more remote locations and as people get older they can struggle to access shops and local facilities, especially if they do not have a car. These safe shared communities provide an opportunity for residents to meet new people, avoid loneliness and enjoy life to the full as they can use facilities on site that can include, a cinema, gym studio, restaurant, café, craft rooms, coffee rooms etc. 


How is the approach being sustained?

Our approach to accommodation for older people has required the commitment of substantial investment to deliver six affordable extra care housing schemes over a seven-year timespan.

Lessons learned

Create the right platform:

•    Base decisions on evidence

•    Generate interest

•    Create a dedicated Programme to deliver.

•    Make delivery a mix

o    Work with the market where possible

o    Deliver in the gaps yourself

•    Where you deliver, start with a Business Case that demonstrates the value. In particular in pure financial terms.

•    Be visionary – design places you would like your friends or family members to live in.

•    Be opportunistic – take advantage of other strategies to up the design quality and policies eg. Sustainability Strategy.

•    Be tenacious. Tackle each obstacle. Find solutions.