Consulting with residents to design their retirement housing in Sunderland

Sensory Trust was commissioned by the innovative housing development group, Gentoo, to consult with older residents so they could help shape the plans for a new retirement housing scheme. The Hahnemann Court tower block was built in the 1960s as what was evisaged then as 'state of the art' housing. Fifty years on and its sad, dilapidated state was declared beyond repair with its owner, Gentoo, who then faced the challenge of what to replace it with.

The remaining residents, mainly older people, found themselves in the heart of a complex scenario - on one hand facing all the upheaval and uncertaintly associated with moving home, and on the other hand finding themselves in the heart of an exciting development process.

The existing accommodation is mostly empty and in poor repair:

Hahnemann Court's existing garden space

A focus on the outdoor spaces

We met with the project architect and landscape architect to discuss outdoor-related aspects of the design, particularly the way the indoor and outdoor spaces could flow together. Ideas discussed at that meeting included scope for introducing spaces for residents to grow plants, maximising views from indoors, the refocusing of the communal laundry area to include facilities to make that more of a social space; and for the indoor corridors to offer flexible social spaces with movable seating to invite casual meetings and social encounters.

The consultation process

Residents were consulted from the earliest stages to involve them in all stages of the process - from initial visioning through to design detail. The aim of the Sensory Trust's consultation was to focus on the outdoor areas of the new retirement housing, ensuring that the public and private garden areas would best serve the interests and needs of the residents when they moved from their existing flats into the new building.

Location: We ran the consultation at Hahnemann Court so it would be familiar and easy to get to for residents. It was also an opportunity for us to use examples of what residents currently had access to, and how they could see that made better.

Consultation techniques: We used a mix of semi-structured techniques such as voting for different garden-related images, using real plants to stimulate discussion, creative ways of inviting people to share their views and ideas, and informal focus group discussions.

We spent a day with more than 50 residents to discuss ideas for the outdoor spaces. We asked what sort of activities they would like to do in those spaces, and the sort of feeling that space should have. Preferred activities included sitting in the sun, eating, and socialising to more energetic pursuits such as gardening and bowls. Through discussions, residents also commented on the mood of the gardens and outlined the type of place that they would feel most comfortable in and were most likely to use.

Consultation day at the Hahnemann Court community rooms.

Capturing the results: We produced a report detailing over 40 recommendation and suggestions covering subjects from activities, planting and services, to lighting and wayfinding which will be used to improve the liveability and usability of the public spaces at the new development.

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