Professional Comment

Engineering Better Care

By Ewa Ambrosius, Associate at Perega (

The world is witnessing an unprecedented ageing of its population, and the next decade will see an extraordinary surge in the number of people aged 65 and over. In the UK, the current population of OAPs is set to double by 2045, increasing to a massive 3.1 million.

With such a significant demographic shift, future-proofing society for the elderly has become a top priority, particularly when it comes to their accommodation. This requires meticulous planning, thoughtful landscaping, and well-considered layouts, accommodating for reduced mobility and mental faculties to offer a true “home for life”.

Here, structural and civil engineers can play a pivotal role in the construction of care communities that specifically meet the needs of the older generation. Crucially, the unique requirements of future residents need to be considered, including social needs, proximity to medical facilities, and universal accessibility.

So, having worked on a number of care home projects, I have some essential tips for delivering conscientiously-designed, age-friendly developments, grounded in years of experience…

Location, Location, Location

In any care home project, understanding the parameters of the selected site is crucial. This means taking the topography into account and conducting a thorough survey to identify potential restrictions and the area’s existing infrastructure.

Careful consideration must also be given to landscaping. Minimising inclines is essential to create a safe and accessible environment for people of all ages, from the fit 55-year-old to the frail nonagenarian. Ensuring thoroughfares offer plenty of room to manoeuvre for mobility vehicles, adequate surface water drainage and the safety of residents are of top priority.

Breathing new life into the old
With greenfield land in short supply, brownfield sites do present a great opportunity for developers, particularly from a carbon reduction perspective when aiming to meet sustainability clauses in the project specification.

Here, understanding the lie of the land is especially important. If it’s categorised as a brownfield, there is a specific set of regulatory restrictions that need to be considered. For example, to achieve planning permission, the land’s quality and composition need to be thoroughly assessed and, where necessary, reinforced with any identified contamination removed before construction can begin.

This then needs to be followed by very careful remediation of the land before it can be prepared for building and landscaping. Whilst this can come at a significant upfront cost, the long-term gains are potentially huge, and provide a welcome solution for the lack of appropriate stock for the elderly. Just to highlight the scale of this opportunity, the CPRE reports dormant brownfield sites in the UK offer space for 1.2 million homes. This means care homes can be built with better access to urban areas and utilities at a lower carbon cost.

Sustainablity in desgin should also be kept in mind. Take, for instance, the Rye Care Home in Sussex. A modern three-story care facility on the same site as the Rye, Winchelsea and District Memorial Hospital. We at Perega, advised on the design and construction of the home to Passivhaus standards; a comfortable and low running cost /carbon emissions building. Minimal air leakages, an exceptional level of thermal efficiency, and effective ventilation, not only have positive implications for the environment but will also translate to reduced service charges and lowered fuel costs.

Designing a place to grow old
Creating an inclusive environment for the elderly poses a unique challenge. It must account for the inevitable cognitive and physical deterioration that limits everyday activities.

Around 70% of those residing in care homes grapple with dementia diagnoses, which range from mild to severe, emphasising the importance of adopting a person-centred approach during the facility’s design phase. The Elmside Care Home in Hitchin, specifically tailored to care for residents with dementia, illustrates that a facility is not just its physical structure. With numerous communal spaces, and amenities such as a hair salon, therapy rooms, and coffee shop, it is a genuine community. Here, residents find support, comfort, and a sense of belonging.

This touches on a primary concern for senior citizens moving into a care home: the risk of isolation and difficulty of forming new friendships, especially as they start to get frailer. As such, these developments need to be planned as close-knit hubs, ensuring plenty of on-site communal areas within a suitable walking distance from residents’ dwellings. With a mandatory minimum allocation of 3.9m2 of communal space per person, project teams need to guarantee they’ve made enough accommodation for this within developments.

Here your civil and structural engineering team can provide expert advice, ensuring that each facility can safely slot around the residential assets within the development and link with wider utilities.

Inclusive developments
Furthermore, this work needs to avoid creating isolated bubbles for the elderly, so thoughtful consideration of the development’s proximity to existing infrastructure is essential

These days, care homes don’t tend to be built in the middle of nowhere so, for successful integration within the wider community, it must align with the local authority’s long-term planning strategy. That means getting the council on board at the earliest possible stage.

Civil engineers can also play an active part here, supporting seamless integration, and designing transport links that neatly connect with existing road and rail links, facilitating easy access for visiting friends and family as well as resident’s attendance at medical appointments. The close proximity to urban areas also provides residents with the opportunity for group outings and interactions beyond the home.

Ultimately, at the heart of any community are its people, but the true essence of a thriving community has to be a winning combination of the right location, conscientious design, and easy-to-access services and amenities.