Glebe Meadow Westleton
Glebe Meadow Westleton

Designing for Rightsizing

The success of Glebe Meadow will lie in the sense of community the site and the homes within it engender. Design is crucial to this in terms of both the way the site is laid out and the design of the individual homes themselves.  Moving to Glebe Meadow must be life enhancing for our residents – that is our goal, and therefore moving to Glebe Meadow will be a positive lifestyle choice. We want to provide a supportive environment that promotes health and wellbeing for residents as their needs change over time, to enable them to live independently in their own homes for longer. We know that as we age our physical and mental abilities change and therefore it is critical that our environment is designed to enable us to ‘age actively’ – to live securely, enjoy good health and to continue to participate fully in society.



It is almost 10 years since the first HAPPI report – Housing for our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation – drew attention to the lack of well designed housing for older people. The report recognised the strong connection between health (physical and mental) and housing. Nevertheless 10 years on there is still a substantial shortfall in suitable housing and the latest estimates are that there will be a shortfall of around 400,000 purpose built homes for older people by 2035*.  Glebe Meadow will be an attractive housing solution offering a lifestyle choice with peer-to-peer support, security and companionship.


The HAPPI design principles –

  1. New retirement homes should have generous internal space standards..designed to accommodate flexible layouts
  2. Plenty of natural light, and daylight into circulation spaces is important
  3. Outside spaces – balconies, patios or terraces – should have enough space for a table and chairs as well as plants
  4. Homes should be ‘care ready’ so that new and emerging technologies eg telecare can be readily installed
  5. Layouts should promote circulation areas and shared spaces encouraging interaction, supporting interdependence and avoiding an institutional feel..promoting natural surveillance ..
  6. Multipurpose space should be available for residents to meet and organise an appropriate  range of activities…as well as guest rooms for visiting friends and families
  7. Homes are energy efficient and well insulated, well ventilated and able to avoid overheating…
  8. Adequate storage is provided outside the home together with provision for cycles and mobility aids, and that storage inside the home meets the needs of the occupier
  9. Shared external surfaces that give priority to pedestrians rather than cars ..barrier free for wheelchair users…with due regard to the kinds of navigation difficulties that visually impaired people may experience in such environments..
  10. The natural environment is nurtured…and provides colour, shade and shelter..


*The number of UK citizens expected to be 85 or over is projected to rise to 3 million by 2030, the number aged 65+ to 15 million. 

The physiology of ageing

Ageing is a normal phenomenon, affecting our body and mind. After the age of 70 there is a natural decline in the strength of muscle power. The average ‘fit’ over 65 year old will have lost bulk and notice reduced physical ability, more difficulty climbing stairs, balancing, manoeuvring and moving quickly. There is likely to be a reduction in energy levels too. Poor balance may be due to reduced vision, defective balance organs or a loss of proprioceptive receptors (position sensors in muscles and joints connected to the brain by the finest of the peripheral nerves). When walking we spend half the time balancing on one leg. If our balance is not good we tend to shuffle rather than pick our feet up, which makes us more susceptible to tripping.


Eyesight is equally important – just stand on one leg and close both your eyes to test this. Some degree of sight loss is inevitable as we age, and hearing loss is likely too, both of which will impact our ability to easily balance & can result in giddiness which increases the risk of falling.


Common diseases that affect mobility include osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Inactivity leads to thinning bone densities resulting in fractures – preventing a fall which could fracture a crumbling bone is particularly important in later life.


Illness, memory loss, falls etc can all damage our confidence, setting off a downward spiral of anxiety, inactivity, isolation and dependency.


So as we age we are likely to develop physical, sensory or cognitive impairments not experienced in earlier life. There are now 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, likely to rise to more than 1 million by 2025. As dementia is now the most common reason for entering residential care for the over 65s, design that addresses issues of dementia is likely to help our residents stay in their homes for longer. Much of this is fairly basic – provide a safe environment; provide stimulation & promote physical and meaningful activities; provide optimum lighting and contrast; support orientation,  wayfinding and navigation through clear & intuitive signage, pictures rather than words, colour coded doors etc  


Lifts, labour saving devices, wheelchairs, wider doorways and hallways, visual aids to help us remember where we are when brain function deteriorates, are all straightforward measures that can be incorporated into well designed housing. Our lifestyles and living environments can do a great deal to allow us to live longer, healthier and happier lives.


Lifetime Homes

The notion that housing should be accessible to older and disabled people is a remarkably recent idea. There are 16 design criteria relevant for ‘lifetime use’ of homes including –

  1. Parking – spaces 1.5 the width of a standard car parking space to enable wheelchair accessability
  2. Distance from car parking to the home (gradients, widths as well as length)
  3. Internal doorways and hallways
  4. Glazing and window handles


Given all the above, our starting point was the people who will choose to live at Glebe Meadow -  locals over 65 years old wanting a purpose built, well designed new home in a community environment. What will they want to do here? What kind of living environment do we need to offer to enable residents to generate the right atmosphere and give them the experience they’re looking for?


The daily experience of future residents – this is work in progress but what we do know is that as we age we spend more time in the home (roughly 60% at 60 years old, 70% at 70 and 80% at 80). Being less mobile makes the views from our homes more important, as well as the ease with which we can get outside onto a terrace or balcony. We hope that our residents will spend less time than average on their own in their homes, unless they choose to do so, as being able to conveniently spend time with their friends in the central social hub should be relatively easy.  


Site Layout

Key components of our brief –  offering 20 individual homes for residents, each with a private parking space and plenty of external storage space for scooters and mobility buggies;  level access throughout (no steps), predominantly covered walkways, wide enough for mobility scooters and buggies; several shared spaces (for gardens, allotments, chicken runs, croquet/boules etc); priority to pedestrians and cyclists vs cars; easy access from all parts of the site to the social hub (currently the vicarage); good lighting is essential throughout; inclusion of space for village car parking area if feasible, to be shared with guest car parking for residents guests;  as we don’t want cars to dominate the aesthetics of the site (and we don’t want strangers wandering around the site), the village/guest car park should be separate from the rest of the site; the site should be as green as possible both in terms of natural surroundings and in terms of energy and water conservation, waste minimisation; the site should feel welcoming and homely, but also private and secure for residents;

Homes design

Key components of our brief – fully self contained properties where residents have their own front doors; fully accessible; 2 bedrooms - principal bedroom ensuite with a level access shower; 2nd bedroom can be used as a hobbies or spare room for children/grandchildren/carers; ample storage within a (generous) internal floor space of 85sq m; private external space large enough for a table and chairs; plenty of natural light; easy to maintain, clean and heat, whilst staying cool during our increasingly hot summers


Single storey - Bungalows vs apartments. The most serious accidents involving people over 65 usually occur on the stairs or in the kitchen, with falls from stairs accounting for the largest number of accidents in the home. So stairs are to be avoided where possible, but bungalows need a lot more space than houses or flats. But our research indicates that flats are not popular with rural inhabitants over 65 – maybe that is because high quality flats aren’t an option that’s available?  


Open plan living/dining/kitchen arrangement to reflect changing patterns of 21C living.  A mid-height, built in oven with a pull out shelf is safer and easier to use than a conventional low level oven.


Dual aspect so that residents can see what’s going on at one end of their homes, with a view over the fields/church from the other aspect


Door widths and room sizes generous enough to facilitate wheelchair access throughout.


Dementia friendly using visual clues to differentiate key areas, helping residents to navigate independently and with confidence.


As a new build development, ideally we would like to offer residents the possibility of choosing their own finishes to personalise their homes.

The social value of shared space

Shared indoor and outdoor spaces have an important role in alleviating loneliness and promoting healthy lifestyles. At Glebe Meadow we have the opportunity to convert the Vicarage into a social hub for residents shared use for leisure activities like cooking and eating together, watching TV and films, organising exercise classes, games (table tennis, bridge etc) or drop in service providers such as hairdressers, masseurs and chiropodists; and to turn the gardens and glebe land into space of community value for whatever the residents want to use it for – maybe a chicken run, allotments, croquet, boules, herb patch and communal gardens.


In the vicarage there will be at least one lounge area, one kitchen-dining area, as well as a games/leisure room, an office with shared PC and photocopier as well as bedrooms for residents guests upstairs. It may well be that in time if the guests bedrooms aren’t used to capacity, one of the bedrooms could also be used as a residents library, and another an arts & crafts room as the views from the first floor are inspiring.  

Gardens – As our residents will be drawn from the local, rural community, it is important that we try to make the natural environment at Glebe Meadow as rich and stimulating as possible. We know too that exposure to sunlight facilitates the production of vitamin D which increases bone strength and muscle performance, resulting in fewer and less severe falls. Ideally a kitchen garden will be supported as gardening is a social and healthy activity and fresh produce is highly beneficial to older people as the ability to metabolise vitamins and minerals, and our sense of taste, diminish with age.  The therapeutic effects of chicken keeping are well established and we will be working with HenPower on providing a new home to some feathered friends. Watering, weeding (raised beds ideally!) and harvesting can be immensely satisfying and the colour, texture and smell of fresh fruit and vegetables often evoke positive memories for people living with mild dementia.


Glebe Meadow is a  Community Interest Company established to buy the former Vicarage  in the heart of Westleton and convert it into the social hub for a new development of 20 modern, age appropriate homes for locals aged at least 65.  



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© Sarah Quinlan