Rural housing

Making homes dementia friendly…by making them people friendly

The Problem

As we age we often have a greater need for support at home. We find ourselves thinking more and more about how steep the stairs are, how narrow the hallway is, or indeed whether or not we or a family member can easily get into or out of our home. At the same time, many old houses in the Highlands are not easy to adapt for those with growing care at home needs. This can lead to people needing to move away from their community to find a property that is more accessible.

In addition, the cost of owning or renting a property in the Highlands is often too much for residents to manage. Fuel poverty is an increasing problem in our area, particularly with the large numbers of older properties with little or no insulation. The Scottish House Condition Survey 2012-2014, released in December 2015, highlighted that 72% of those of pension age in the Highlands are experiencing fuel poverty (over 10% of income spent on household fuel), with 36% suffering extreme fuel poverty (over 20% of income).

The Solution

So, what can be done about this? At DFC, we are working closely with a number of partners on this issue, including Helmsdale & District Development Trust, the Scottish Government, Highland Council, NHS Highland, Highland Small Communities Housing Trust and Albyn Housing Society.

On 21st March 2016, the Sutherland Rural Housing Conference – Doing it for Ourselves took place at Helmsdale Community Centre. One of the important points discussed at the conference was the introduction of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and Land Reform Bill 2015. This new legislation, alongside the newly-announced Rural Housing Fund provides a great opportunity for our communities to establish the key housing issues we face and address them ourselves through effective partnerships from various sectors.

Later in 2016, we were given the chance to work closely with Carbon Dynamic and Albyn Housing on their new assisted living housing project. After looking around an example home, we were asked for advice on how their housing could be more dementia-friendly. We plan to continue a close working relationship with the two companies going forward.

One of the ways we are moving forward with this work is to establish a Dementia Friendly Rural Housing Charter, which will provide advice to housing providers on how properties can be dementia friendly and, as a result, people friendly. For example, an entrance hall big enough to accommodate an elderly person’s wheelchair will also be big enough to store a child’s pram. We are also focussing on making adaptations easier and more affordable for existing homes. Our older houses and buildings are an important part of our heritage and have often been home to a number of generations of the same family. We hope this work will help to retain this heritage, make our houses suitable for all and support our residents to remain within the community for as long as they possibly can.