We all want the best for our parents. Whether that’s driven by a sense of familial responsibility or just sheer love, it’s something you feel deep down.

As they get older and staying at home may no longer be possible, the decision about what to do next is a difficult one. It’s hard to face up to the fact our parents might have to leave the family home because they can’t cope anymore, as well as dealing with the practicalities of finding the right place to live.

This becomes even more difficult if there is only one parent left or if they are separated. As a pair, they are in it together and can support each other through life’s changes. But, living alone, they might feel insecure and unsettled.

It’s in situations like these that the decision is usually taken out of their hands, and ours. Moving into a care home is often done at crisis point when illness facilitates the move people rarely want to make.

As children we feel guilty – like we’ve let them down – while our parents might think life as they know it has come to an end. As my father said to me, moving into a care home is the last resort!

Sector at breaking point

You can understand why people have this view after listening to the news every day. Whether it’s homecare providers under fire for only providing 15 minutes of care or care homes being shut-down, it’s clear the sector is at breaking point.

The reality is that our demographic changes means we have unprecedented numbers of older people requiring care or housing and a Government who can’t afford to pay for it. While there are legislative changes afoot to tackle these challenges, it’s not going to radically change the system or the fact we’ll be responsible for our own care and support.

Time for a revolution

So, after experiencing the Green House Project in the US and talking with its founder Dr Bill Thomas, I decided to revolutionise retirement housing in the UK. It’s time all older people have the opportunity to continue living a happy, healthy and productive life.

The Green House Project has seen nursing homes torn down and replaced with small, home-like environments. There are now over 140 Green Houses across the States and independent research has found Green House elders experience improved quality of life as well as better quality care, and their families are happier.

Combining lessons from The Green House Project with my own experience led to the creation of Evermore – a model that allows older people to retain their independence, feel secure, and be supported in doing the things they love.

A new type of family living

This has been achieved through building design but most importantly by reworking staff roles and responsibilities.

Like the Green House Project, Evermore Villages are built on the principles of a family home. There is a communal, open-plan kitchen, available for everyone to use whether that’s helping themselves, taking part in the preparation or letting somebody else doing the cooking!

There is a shared table where Villagers can eat together, share stories from the day or just sit back with a glass of wine. There are gardens, plenty of light, space, and community areas. Plus, Evermore Villages are conveniently located in the centre of town making it easier to access transport and facilities.

There are no nursing stations, prescribed meal times, pincode entry systems, sterile hallways or medicinal smells. Basically anything that resembles an institution has been eradicated.

In its place we have a warm, friendly and inviting home where Villagers can enjoy the solitude of their own self-contained apartment – available to buy or rent – or take part in Village life. The apartments are clustered in households of between 10-12 people so they can really get to know each other and form new, lifelong friendships.

Empowered staff acting as advocates

Our staff will play a crucial role in bringing the community together and supporting Villagers in living the life they want. This has been made possible by creating a new universal worker called a Mulinello who, unlike his / her cousins in traditional settings, isn’t focused on tasks. Their primary role is to act as an advocate for the Villagers, optimising their health and wellbeing and providing support when they need it.

Our hope is that Evermore will help meet the demand for retirement housing, deemed the UK’s next housing crisis. Just recently think-tank Demos published a paper highlighting only 2 per cent of the UK housing stock meets the needs of older people.
Imagine if there was housing your parents could actually look forward to moving into, that gives them a sense of security through home ownership, and where they will always have support and never be lonely?

I think that’s exactly what we’ve created at Evermore, an environment that will give older people the desire to buy green bananas because they’ll feel confident that they’ll be around when the bananas ripen!

Sara McKee

Founder & Director of Market Innovation

@SaraMcKeeFRSA

NB: A version of this blog first appeared on the website ‘Whey They Get Older‘.