The Neighbourhoods of the Future conference was held on the 10th – 11th May 2017 in London as a platform to develop ideas and discuss new designs for age-friendly housing. The conference gathered key players in the field such as McCarthy & Stone, NatWest, Tata Steel, IBM, Microsoft, small businesses, start-ups and policy makers. There was an agreement that there is a need for more smart homes and adaptable housing to create communities where health and well-being are connected. This can be achieved by digitising homes with non-intrusive enabling technologies so that older people can enjoy life in their ‘cognitive homes’ for longer. According to McCarthy & Stone, that builds 70% of the specialist retirement properties in the UK, six out of ten older people would like to downsize in the UK and thus the retirement home market will grow from building 5,000 to over 20,000 homes a year.

The Agile Ageing Alliance, who organised the event, presented a ‘white paper’ for connecting digital innovators in an ageing society. Merlin Stone, Professor of Marketing and Strategy at St Mary’s University, contributed to the white paper and highlighted the challenges for those offering innovative solutions in reaching out to the older customer. He noted that older adults are open to digital solutions in their homes and that inclusive design should cater for this digital preference, acknowledging it as the fastest and cheapest way.

Other speakers made reference to the idea that we are on the verge of a new industrial revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, who initially put forward this idea, argues that emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, the internet of things, nanotechnology and autonomous vehicles are fundamentally changing our society. To embrace this upcoming trend, it was argued that new solutions, including those targeted to the older customer, must be systematically applied in a close relationship with the surrounding ecosystem in an open and joined-up innovation process.

Innovators, however, first need to explore the needs of the older customers for age-friendly homes, define clearly their customer-centric value proposition and devise corresponding and scalable business models in order to bring their solutions successfully to market.

Innovative solutions presented during the conference include:

  • Vida care – a new service which harnesses technology and invests in high quality carers to deliver fully managed and personalised in-home care
  • CareRooms – will launch a care BNB, redeploying existing rooms for people coming out of hospital, unblocking the hospital bed crisis in the UK
  • WoQuaz – a residential care centre that has implemented heat sensor technology to detect falls, using the UniversAAL system