Building companionship: How better building design can tackle loneliness in later life

12 April 2016

building companionship - mccarthy & stone - retirement living - loneliness - later life - elderly loneliness - care home

New report finds that better building design can be a major solution to tackling loneliness in later life:

  • Over a million older people always or often feel lonely
  • Lessons to be learnt from friendship and companionship found in retirement housing
  • A ‘people and place’ strategy is central to tackling isolation
  • London has the highest levels of loneliness in the country, and Yorkshire the lowest


Loneliness in the older generation can be combatted through better housing design, building ‘cities for all ages’, and encouraging ‘socialisers’ to motivate outliers into activity, according to a new report published today.

The report – Building Companionship: how better design can combat loneliness in later life – was undertaken by cross-party think tank Demos with the support of McCarthy & Stone, the UK’s leading retirement housebuilder, to better understand how loneliness amongst older people can be tackled.  It comes amid growing concerns around isolation, with research for the report finding that those aged over 80 are almost twice as likely to report feeling lonely compared to their younger counterparts (14.8% of 16-64s report this, compared to 29.2% over the over 80s).  

The report highlights wide regional variations in loneliness:  Londoners aged 55+ report the highest levels, with four out of five (81%) feeling lonely at least some of the time, citing a lack of community spirit and support. In contrast, Yorkshire and Humberside emerged as the least lonely region, with 47% of over 55s saying they had not felt lonely at any point during the past 12 months, with local communities and neighbours playing a large role. 

The impact of loneliness is significant and well documented – from poorer mental health to a greater risk of falling and hospitalisation. This, in turn, has obvious cost implications for the NHS, social care and the wider economy.

The report looked at the high levels of companionship found in retirement developments for lessons that could be learnt for how wider building design could address social isolation.  It found that 85% of those surveyed in McCarthy & Stone’s developments said there is a good sense of community in their development, compared to just 51% of those aged 55+ in the wider community.  What’s more, those who live in retirement housing tend to report feeling much less lonely than their peers in mainstream housing.

Claudia Wood, Chief Executive of Demos, comments: "Tackling the growing problem of loneliness amongst older people is a social and economic priority. The implications for spending on health, care and support services for socially isolated older people, at a time where budgets are already stretched, are such that the case for preventative and lower level ‘social fixes’ to tackle loneliness is compelling. 

“We need to learn lessons from retirement developments, where homeowners are healthier, significantly less lonely and more socially engaged. This means creating communities with communal space, diverse activity programmes, close to neighbourhood amenities, and opportunities for older people themselves to arrange activities for their peers. This ‘people and place’ strategy is central to tackling isolation."

Clive Fenton, McCarthy & Stone CEO, adds: “We supported this report to explore the extent to which older people are less lonely in retirement housing, and whether lessons might be learnt for wider aspects of housing policy, such as neighbourhood planning.  The findings are compelling – our homeowners are typically much happier and better connected than their peers in the community.  In turn, this delivers significant cost savings for the NHS, social care and wider economy.  But building more retirement housing is just one solution to combatting loneliness - developers and local and national government should review the recommendations in this report and consider adapting how we design neighbourhoods more generally.”

The report recommends a number of lessons that can be applied from retirement housing to wider neighbourhood design, including:

  • Place: The creation of ‘cities for all ages’ – areas incorporating transport, housing, street furniture and green space which enable older people to remain socially, physically and mentally active. The report highlights small scale schemes such as Gloucestershire Village and Community Agents, Rotherham Social Prescribing Scheme and Living Well Cornwall which help to address isolation among older people.  
  • People: Local authorities should encourage active citizenship amongst the older generation, recruiting ambassadors to work with their peers to encourage social engagement and inclusion in the area.

The report also recommends:

  • Increasing the provision of retirement housing: This is integral to the success of the fight against loneliness in older people given its many benefits. National and local policy makers are encouraged to help unlock supply and boost the development and availability of age appropriate housing for older people keen to downsize.
  • Neighbourhood planning strategies to have a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and Health and Wellbeing Strategies to match.
  • Real social networks: Schemes that develop older people’s IT skills to prioritise education around activity which will result in ‘real life’ interactions such as joining forums and local groups.


Building Companionship: how better design can combat loneliness in later life is available to download now.


Notes to editors:

McCarthy & Stone is the UK’s leading retirement housebuilder, with a c.70% share of the owner-occupied market[1]. The Group buys land and then builds, sells and manages high-quality retirement developments. It has sold over 50,000 homes across more than 1,000 developments since 1977 and currently has around 160 developments under construction or for sale in the UK.  

McCarthy & Stone’s Retirement Living and Assisted Living developments offer one and two bedroom apartments across the country in a wide variety of locations, from city centres to rural villages and coastal locations.  Retirement Living developments offer the independence of retaining home ownership while living in an apartment specifically for the over-60s, as well as greater peace of mind and companionship. Assisted Living developments for the over-70s offer all of this, plus a helping hand through flexible care and support packages that make life that little bit easier. 

In 2015, McCarthy & Stone launched its Ortus Homes offering. Exclusively for over-55s, these bespoke properties are intelligently designed for downsizing to enhance a homeowner’s leisure years.  The first Ortus development, Scarlet Oak in Solihull, was crowned ‘Best Retirement Scheme’ in the HBF’s Housebuilder Awards in November 2015.

McCarthy & Stone’s commitment to quality and customer service continues to be recognised by homeowners. For the eleventh year running, the Company has been awarded the full five stars for customer satisfaction in an independent survey conducted by the Home Builders Federation (HBF).

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[1] Based on 3,453 registrations of cross tenure properties specifically designed for the elderly with the NHBC during calendar year 2015, of which 2,672 were registered by McCarthy and Stone.

There is a growing demand for specialist retirement housing, with the number of people aged over 85 in the UK expected to more than double between 2014 and 2033 from 1.5 million to 3.5 million, and the number of over 65 year olds expected to increase by more than 50% from 11.4 million to 17.2 million[1].  According to recent research, 1 in 4 over 60s are interested in retirement living[2] (Demos, 2013), yet only c.128, 000 units of specialist retirement housing for homeowners have been built[3]

[1] Population projections by the Office for National Statistics (2012 based).

[2] Demos- Top of the Ladder (2013)

[3] Age UK - Buying retirement housing fact sheet (April 2014). Properties built relate to England and Wales as at April 2014