Intergenerational and sustainable living on Newcastle Helix

The landmark Future Homes housing development on Newcastle Helix aims to tackle issues of sustainability and accessibility in housing.

The scheme will strengthen Newcastle’s position as a place where people can live longer, healthier, and smarter.

The development is currently set to bring 66 adaptable, affordable, and intergenerational homes into fruition after more than a year of consultations, design work and logistics.

We met with the founder of the Future Homes Alliance, Rose Gilroy, to chat about the project and the innovative ways of working that have driven this unique development on Newcastle Helix.

A seed of inspiration …

Back in 2016 Rose brought together key players in academia, the public and private sector and community groups from across the North East to start thinking about the region’s housing needs and what they could do about the lacklustre offer for older people.

By the meeting’s end, it was decided that they wouldn’t just produce a piece of research, but would instead build real homes with the aim of addressing real issues of demographic change and sustainability.

The initial plan was to build up to six demonstrator homes in which residents would provide feedback on their experience in the space.

… And the Future Homes Alliance was born

After gaining planning permission last year, these demonstrator homes will now be in amongst a community of 66 dwellings in the Future Homes complex on Newcastle Helix and will be used by industrial partners as a test bed for innovative technologies that could bring forth more inclusive housing options in the future.

From the offset, the group established itself as a quadruple helix organisation. Engaging with the community and listening to unheard voices was central to the group’s ethos and the development of homes that actually met the needs of those living in them.

Through a series of workshops, partners Ryder Architecture piloted their methodology of iterative learning. This involved listening, recording, analysing, and feeding back ideas from various groups that represented occupational therapists, older people, adults with visual impairments, families with autistic children, housing managers and parents of young children. With this intelligence, the group was able to identify their needs and challenges within the home and begin developing solutions.

Rose said: “People had an opportunity to talk, to have their knowledge valued and to know that it was going to be used to make a difference. It was also an opportunity to learn from each other.”

What will the homes look like?

The design concept of the homes takes on a more sophisticated understanding of the 1980s Lifetime Homes scheme developed by the Helen Hamlyn Foundation and Habinteg Housing Association. This looked at creating a standard that would mean newly built homes would have to be designed to be easily adaptable for disabled and non-disabled people to live in. Similarly, the Future Homes Alliance complex will see the spaces adapt and grow to the changing needs of its residents.

A CGI of Future Homes at Newcastle Helix
A CGI of Future Homes at Newcastle Helix

Rose said: “The key to accessibility is often space. If you’ve got space, you’ve got wiggle room in which to do things in a way that allows people to live with dignity.”

She explains that the homes within the complex will have moveable internal walls that allow the resident to have more flexibility with how they live and grow in the space.

The group also hope that some of the homes will incorporate technologies from kitchen fitters, 4G Kitchen who specialise in creating multi-generational living spaces using easy access pull-out work surfaces, drawers, and doors.

Another key aspect Rose touched on, was the importance of sustainability. The Future Homes project has led with a ‘fabric first’ approach, meaning the homes will be made warm and comfortable before any heating systems are installed. “If you’re not going to attempt to do something which achieves well in terms of sustainability, you shouldn’t be doing anything. It’s just adding to the problem,” Rose said.

This building method not only benefits the environment, but also works to tackle fuel poverty in an area of deprivation. The idea is that the less residents need to rely on fuel, the better.

Rose emphasised that Newcastle Helix had always felt like a natural fit for this project. As a test bed of innovation, it was felt that the residential offer of the site should reflect this.

“If you’re going to do housing you’ve got to try and push the envelope and do something that’s more challenging; something that can prove business ideas, that’s tested by communities, something that speaks to the local authority, and something that provides research opportunities. In the quadruple helix you get the chance for a quadruple win so everyone can gain something from this,” Rose said.

Future Homes and beyond

The data and feedback gathered from the site will be vital in improving the lives of those living within the complex but also in informing future projects. “What we’ll show is that we’re bigger than one project, what I never wanted it to be was a one off,” Rose said.

When building is complete, the group plans to capture performance data from the homes to feed back to residents enabling them to make informed decisions about their energy and water usage. They also hope to regularly meet with householders to gain experiential and real-time insight as to what it is like to live in the homes.

Rose attributes the success of the project thus far to the strong team that she was able to bring together; cultivating a space where all voices are valued and all those involved have the space to contribute.

She said: “We settled on values of integrity and honesty; when we look at our partners or when we look at future partners, it’ll be through those spectacles. It is very much a value-driven project and I’d like to think that the people that are around the table also share in that, not only professionally but also in themselves as individuals.”

The Future Homes Alliance is a community interest company working to make housing fit for the future. Partners include, Zero Carbon Futures, Elders Council, Sustainable Communities Initiative, Ryder Architecture, Innovation SuperNetwork and Newcastle University.

It is hoped that this will set a blueprint model of living that can be replicated on a regional and ultimately a national scale. Underpinned by a commitment to green technology, their ambition is to develop housing that caters to the needs and aspirations of present, future and all generations.

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