A recent Age UK survey found almost half of older LGBT people experienced discrimination when accessing social care services and almost three quarters of respondents felt uncomfortable disclosing their sexuality to staff.
It also reported two thirds of people would consider living in specialist LGBT housing and 91% would think about accessing LGBT-specific services.
These statistics have inspired four people to improve the social care experience for older LGBT people through a new community interest company, Tonic Housing.
“As four gay people of a certain age, we had started to reflect on what we would want from care services when we get older,” says James Greenshields, one of the founders of Tonic.
“This prompted a little bit of research and those statistics really shocked us, considering we live in the country which we do, so that was a catalyst for us to say what can we do?”
Trial and error
The company is now exploring the development of housing and services that have a more distinct LGBT identity and ethos. This year, Tonic will focus on going out into the community itself and testing some of their ideas about what the project should look like.
“We have started with an if-you-like ‘straw man’ proposition but we want to test that to see if it’s what the community would want and need,” says Greenshields.
This will include looking at demographic mix – age, gender, sexuality – and the design and location of a residential space. For the moment, the team are assuming this would be situated in London or Brighton, due to the size of the LGBT community already living there.
“We are assuming the space will represent the identity of the LGBT community, but it will not be exclusively so,” he says. “What we’re saying at this point is that a minimum of 50% of residents would come from that community, but we’re not looking to create ghettos.”
The team are also keen to create a space with an ‘intergenerational feel’, which would be encouraged through activities and the provision of lifestyle, catering and fitness services.
They have been researching a variety of models and have visited spaces in and around the UK, including an initiative that provides care and support for older LGBT people in Berlin.
“The Berlin home was an obvious one to go to because it is LGBT and it is very successful, but we completely have an open mind to the models out there,” says Greenshields.
“We’re not here to replicate the mainstream, we see this an opportunity to do things differently and feel very privileged to be in this position.”
Ideally, Tonic would like to create a space that offers a mixed-tenure to residents – commercial rent, social rent, affordable, rent, shared ownership and outright sale – but the team is aware they may be challenged on this aspect, as it needs to be commercially viable.
“All of this is a caveat, it is something to be tested but we feel like it is important to start with some ideas,” says Greenshields. “Otherwise you’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and that can be quite difficult when you’re going into a consultation process.”
The project has already secured funding support from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Trust for London, the Tudor Trust and Barrow Cadbury Trust, but Tonic also needs a housing association to partner with to make the residential home happen.
“Funding breaks into different parts, but in terms of the residential space we would very much see that as being driven by the housing partner and their own resources,” he says.
“But what we would then be looking to do is re-purchase units once the home has been built, so that Tonic itself becomes the social landlord and has allocation rights.”
‘Influence the mainstream’
Although creating a residential space is the first priority for Tonic, the team are also keen to develop services that would support older LGBT to live independently.
This would not involve developing a whole new home care agency, says Greenshields, but it would focus on working with existing ones to ‘challenge the status-quo’ of current provision.
“There is a great emphasis on supporting people to live independently and clearly, we want to respond to that and to the statistics we’ve seen already,” he says.
“We hope that by establishing this organisation, the experiences of older LGBT people accessing care services can be improved.”