FLEX (Flexible Dwellings for Extended Living)


Principal Investigator: Prof Ann Light
Co-investigators: Andy Milligan, DJCAD
Collaborators: Lowri Bond and Carol Botten, Northern Architecture, Newcastle (Project Co-Managers); Linsey McIntosh
Duration: From 2012 to 2013

The FLEX (Flexible Dwellings for Extended Living) project sought to address a challenge of 21st century wellbeing – an increasing older population that wants to age ‘at home’, facing the social isolation that accompanies the loss of traditional meeting places like pubs, pension queues, community centres and the High Street. It explored the boundaries of private and public living, looking at making dwellings
more socially flexible for people as they age and, initially, considered ideas for retrofitting existing properties (rather than building new houses or abandoning our old home and community to live out our remaining years in institutional or private care homes).

The project involved collaboration with UK specialists in built environment, elderly care and housing and also participants with a range of housing experience in Newcastle and Dundee. Both experts and the public participated in co-design workshops that focused on how future generations of older people might
dwell more socially as they age, better serving companionship, resource sharing and social resilience in the community. We particularly focused on the age group of people in their 40s to 60s, for whom retirement is not so distant, and identified their interests, concerns and values.

The FLEX project ran from February 2012 to April 2013, launching with an experts’ workshop to develop initial strategies. Findings emerging from this first event were used to inspire and shape the following workshops for community participants.

FLEX then sought the views of the public bringing together groups of urban dwellers, first in Newcastle, then Dundee, to talk about how they might like to live as they age. Participants represented a rich mix: some owned their homes; others rented privately; whilst some were in social housing or other arrangements. Some were living with two more generations; some had the place to themselves. Participants in our ‘high tea’ workshops didn’t know each other so when we invited them to talk to us we decided to make it convivial and easy to chat to one another.

FLEX hired a café venue in each city – reflecting those critical ‘third-space’ areas used to trigger social conversations – and designed a workshop around a high tea experience, serving guests sandwiches and cake. Courses in this high tea workshop were served with key questions we asked of participants about ‘home’ and ‘sharing’. Our guests were invited, through fliers distributed by our partners’ email lists, by housing associations and by word of mouth. Everyone who attended had volunteered to come along, so we can assume that the most interested, motivated and/or brave people participated. Since the sample was small, we did not distinguish conclusively between regions in our analysis, but rather observed some patterns linked to local building histories.