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Want to have a longer, happier life? Live in an almshouse, report suggests

26 May 2023


Morden College, Blackheath

Morden College, Blackheath

THE secret to a long life might not be found only in genetic or socio-economic factors, but also in where we live, a new study suggests. It says that those living in almshouses live longer than their peers in other forms of housing.

A report published this month, Almshouse Longevity Study: Can living in an almshouse lead to a longer life?, found that, in one almshouse, the Charterhouse in London (Features, 13 January 2017), a 73-year-old male starting his life in the Tudor-era accommodation complex could expect to live almost two-and-a-half years longer than someone from the same socio-economic group who lived elsewhere.

When compared to people of the same age, residents of the best-performing almshouses who are in the lowest socio-economic quintile were found to have the same life expectancy as the wealthiest 40 per cent in society.

The research, conducted by Bayes Business School, builds on a 2017 study on Whitely Village, a retirement community in Surrey which includes almshouse-style housing.

This earlier research argued that residents received a “longevity boost”. The report published this month aimed to build on these findings by examining 15 almshouses around the UK to see whether the results in Whitely Village were replicated.

In an introduction to the report, the chief executive of the Almshouse Association, Nick Phillips, suggests that the research points “to the great value of companionship and strong micro-communities that this unique housing model embodies”.

Almshouses are characterised by their use of terraced housing, arranged around a central, shared garden. They were historically intended as accommodation for poor or disabled members of society, and are now usually run by charities, generally providing cheaper social housing than that offered by local councils.

The authors of the report write that two of the best-performing almshouses, Morden College and Charterhouse, both in London, have a “very focused centre physically . . . and also communally”, with residents sharing a common dining room and taking part in group activities.

“We speculate that this strong sense of community and interaction is combatting the loneliness ‘epidemic’ that previous research has identified as being especially prominent among older age groups, with those aged 70-79 most affected by social isolation,” the authors write.

“If we consider all the almshouses that participated in the study, a common theme is that they have all created a strong sense of community. We believe that this is one of the major contributors to the boost in life expectancy of almshouse residents when compared to similar people from the same socio-economic groupings,” they conclude, with the caveat that “further research is required to determine a full outline of the factors that may be contributing to the longevity boost”.

They also write that the social interaction that might boost longevity “will only work if residents enjoy this type of environment”.

There are currently about 30,000 almshouses in the UK, and, although many date to the Middle Ages, more are being built. In response to the first report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community in 2021, the Almshouse Association committed to build 5000 new homes by 2030 (News, 26 February 2021).

At the time, Mr Phillips said: “This tried and tested model of almshouses provides genuinely affordable housing. . . Historically aimed at senior residents, many are now providing homes to younger beneficiaries, key workers, and families. We are delighted to continue to work closely with the Church in helping those in housing need.”

The full report can be read at bayes.city.ac.uk.

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