Architecture, Built Environment and Planning: Raising the profile of almshouses and supporting the management of housing for people in need

Dr Federica Pascale, Dr Alison Pooley

Almshouses currently accommodate over 36,000 people in 30,000 dwellings in the UK. They increase the availability of, and access to, social housing – primarily for older people.

Over the next ten years, the Almshouse Association aims to establish a number of new almshouse charities, deliver 5,000 new almshouses and upgrade existing dwellings.

ARU research has been used to support new service delivery models for the Almshouse Association, and to underpin best practice guidance on almshouse design. It has also helped to inform policy debate in Parliament, placing almshouses clearly on the social housing agenda.

Dr Federica Pascale

Federica leads our BSc (Hons) Architectural Technology degree. Her research focuses on planning, design, and construction of sustainable and resilient health and social care environments.

Find out more about Dr Federica Pascale Explore ARU researchers' original work via our open access repository, ARRO

Research summary

Almshouses have existed in the UK for a millennia but today, more than ever, housing providers want to make sure they meet the needs of older residents and those living with dementia. However, almshouses have not always been at the centre of discussions about social housing provision. There can be a tendency to view them from an architectural or social history perspective, while overlooking the benefits they bring to local communities and residents.

This research project has focused on the important role almshouses as a form of social housing, and how they can be built (or adapted) to support independent living.

It has also considered the possibility of almshouses being used to address issues such as homelessness.

Dr Pooley and Dr Pascale undertook three interrelated pieces of research to inform this project.

Firstly, Dr Pooley co-authored The role of almshouses in the 21st century: a scoping review, funded by the Almshouse Association and drawing on input from the Association, its constituent member charities and their residents.

The report identified challenges with promoting new almshouses, and presenting their benefits to local communities, the UK Government and the wider social housing stakeholder community. It provided an evidence base to support the Almshouse Association’s future work.

Both Dr Pooley and Dr Pascale worked closely with almshouse charities on Resilience and Community: models of housing for an ageing population, funded by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Research Trust.

This identified key technical and development issues in almshouse construction, and the challenges of renovating existing housing stock to meet the needs of older people, and those with dementia.

The report identified the need for closer collaborative relationships between all stakeholders involved in the delivery of new social housing, the development of clear design guidance around lifetime homes, and a robust evidence base to support the business case for almshouse provision.

Dr Pascale and Dr Pooley also undertook research to better understand the challenges posed to housing providers by older residents and those living with dementia.

The research developed a framework for assessing the age-appropriateness of housing. As well as this, it identified factors that affect the uptake of technology to support ‘ageing in place’ – with both incentives and barriers being noted. This underpinned guidance developed for the operational management of almshouse charities.

A row of almshouses

Summary of the impact

  • helped to raise awareness of almshouses among practitioners, the public, and the UK Government, through a national press campaign, publication of guidance, a housing blog, and evidence presented in Parliament
  • Provided the evidence base to support almshouse charities to make effective business cases for new developments

Impact

Increased awareness of the value of almshouses

Through a national press campaign, publication of guidance, a housing blog, and evidence presented in Parliament, this research project has helped to raise awareness of almshouses among practitioners, the public, and the UK Government.

While almshouses have been part of social housing provision in the UK for over a millennia, awareness and understanding of their role has been limited. They have often been viewed from an architectural and social history perspective, rather than as part of the solution to the UK’s housing crisis.

To address these issues the Almshouse Association commissioned a ‘State of the Art’ report on the current and future role of almshouses. At the same time the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) funded a research project aimed at raising awareness of almshouses, and ARU funded work on independent living for older adults. Based on the results from these studies:

  • the Almshouse Association launched a UK press campaign to raise pubic awareness of the almshouse model
  • the Housing Learning and Improvement Network published practitioner guidance on current challenges and future trends; hosted an almshouse blog with Dr Alison Pooley as one of the contributors; and arranged a series of workshops to raise awareness of almshouses among housing, health and social care practitioners
  • the Almshouse Association and Housing Learning and Improvement Network provided evidence to MPs ahead of Parliamentary debate on the role that almshouses could play in social housing provision
  • RICS published the report Almshouses: a model of community housing for an ageing population in December 2020.
Read more about more about increased awareness of almshouses.

Plans to deliver new almshouses and upgrade existing dwellings

This research project has helped to enhance management systems within the Almshouse Association through the establishment of its Futures Group.

The Futures Group has a remit to promote and support the development of almshouses in the UK. Our research underpins the Association’s ten-year development strategy which commits by 2030 to establishing ten new almshouse charities, delivering 5,000 new almshouse dwellings, and upgrading existing housing – including enhancements to better accommodate the needs of older people and those living with dementia.

The Almshouse Association has also forged a relationship with its Dutch equivalent, Landelijk Hofjesberaad (LHB), bringing them together in a forward-looking and strategic dialogue.

The research has additionally provided the evidence base to support almshouse charities to make effective business cases for new developments. For example, the Legacy East Almshouse Partnership used the findings to promote their development work to policymakers and planners, while the Calder Valley Community Land Trust used it to promote almshouse developments with funders and landowners.

Read more about more about plans to build and upgrade almshouses.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We have mapped our REF 2021 impact case studies against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs, adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, are an urgent call for action. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

This case study is mapped to SDG 1: Poverty eradication, target 1.4.

See also

Read the full REF 2021 impact case study for UoA 13: Raising the profile of almshouses and supporting the management of housing for people in need

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