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Age integrated communities at Univ North

Univ NorthWe increasingly live and work in a society where people of different ages are segregated from each other. Many younger people no longer see or interact with older people in their daily lives. Yet we know that interaction between the generations is important for well-being. Indeed age integration and inter-generational living is seen as part of the solution to loneliness, and enhances mental health for both young and old. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of truly integrated communities of all ages, where a sense of responsibility for each other pertains, where relationships are built around reciprocal exchange of resources, and where each member – young and old – feels that they need others and, in turn, are needed by them.

Over the past two decades, contributions from architecture and design, the arts, sociology, psychology and policy have established a rich literature of experience in this field. Importantly, we have witnessed a move from multi-generational spaces – spaces occupied by individuals of different generations – to genuine intergenerational community, where the place or setting encourages formal and informal interactions between people of different ages and generations. More recently, the concept of Intergenerational Shared Places has developed. This is a physical environment deliberately constructed or redeveloped to enable two or more generations to interact more readily in a location designed originally for each group separately.

Univ North's Redcliffe Maud TerraceThis is the possibility now engendered by the Univ North Site. The very design of Univ North incorporating student accommodation, a residential home for older adults, and a nursery for young children, set in beautiful grounds with shared allotments, walking paths and gardens, supported by café and community hall, will create the opportunity for real cross-generational interactions. It creates a rich mixture of active and quiet spaces that people will want to spend time in, and one that will enhance personal contentment and mindfulness. The Univ North site provides a real opportunity to give the student community living there a unique positive experience, an added element to their wider Oxford education.

These interactions may well leverage student’s individual enthusiasm for volunteering. It provides the opportunity to give an extra dimension to the nursery experience for both the staff and children, and for mutual enrichment of the lives of the Home’s residents.

Drawing on the expertise of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, which I direct, and our collaborative partnership with the Royal College of Art through our establishment of the DesignAge Institute, we will work to understand the dynamics of this new intergenerational community – both the design and the social interaction. We are delighted to receive funding from the Clore Duffield Foundation for this research, and to welcome a new Research Fellow whom we hope will start in Trinity Term 2021. Covid-19 has slowed us down, but not stopped us from working altogether. We will thus work firstly on the literature on intergenerational living producing a critique of the extent, nature, and quality of evidence. Then we shall scope the existing material on design for intergenerational living, taking a special look at the built environment as a key determinant of health and wellbeing. Hopefully by 2022 we shall be able to work with the all those living and working on the site, to explore how this new intergenerational community is developing.

Fellow appointed to HDR boardProfessor Sarah Harper CBE is Clore Professor of Gerontology at the University of Oxford, Fellow at University College, and Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. She currently directs the Oxford Programme on Fertility, Education and Environment (OxFEE) and is Co-PI on the DAI@Oxford Programme. Sarah was appointed a CBE for services to Demography in 2018. 

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Published: 12 May 2021

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