Development that involves vulnerable people such as the elderly needs more than just a professional approach. It needs a human touch.

As the need to improve accommodation for an increasingly aged population continues to grow, Registered Providers and other agencies who provide and manage housing for older people are tasked with improving their existing stock and commissioning new facilities for the elderly. Existing care homes and bed-sit developments can be adapted cost-effectively to suit the needs of residents. However, this cannot be done without disruption to the homes and comfort of residents.

Even for healthy, settled individuals, moving home is one of the most stressful experiences we ever have to deal with. When we are younger, a house move is often a positive, exciting event. With advancing years we are generally less able to deal with change. If either a temporary or permanent relocation is required to facilitate improvements this can become a major trauma for the individual with potential detrimental effects on the health of the residents.

Whilst Registered Providers and similar agencies have highly trained staff dedicated to the sole aim of managing a move, making it as stress free and comfortable as possible for the residents, the skill of these sensitive and caring people is in my experience often not replicated or even understood by the team of construction professionals who make up the project team.

An Architect, Quantity Surveyor, Interior Designer, Surveyor or any other project team member will regard the person or organisation paying their invoices as their primary client. And with the best of motivations, they will try to understand their brief and interpret it in a creative way, perhaps with aspirations for an award or two.

However, it is essential that the project team should consider that they now have many people whose needs must be understood, the residents, some of whom may have lived there for many years. They could know better than anyone what works and doesn’t work in their home.

A dedicated project team member must spend time with the residents as a group and as individuals so that she or he can brief the team and client as to the outcome of the research. This individual must be trained in how to deal with the particular user group and will in some case need to be accompanied by a staff member.

You may be dealing with very anxious older people or a highly lucid person who has used their retirement to become a world expert on assisted living design. In any case, dress appropriately, ditch the bow tie, have a cup of tea and listen, listen, listen.

There is no place for an ego. The resident’s needs must be taken into account in the design and specification, provided that they are achievable.

The way in which designs and proposals are presented should be as clear as possible. Few people can read 2D plans and convert them into reality in their minds. 3D, interactive models should be utilised wherever possible. Photos of completed schemes should be printed out as large as possible, using big and bold text to assist understanding.

Ideally, have residents from a completed scheme at the presentation to tell their story and talk to concerned residents on a one-to-one basis.

The more you engage with the stakeholders at the start of any development the better, however, when vulnerable groups are involved it is even more important that the process is focused on making them feel at ease.