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My name is David Maina and I work for BRE as a technical consultant in the Home Quality Mark (HQM) team.

The HQM manual address a number of issues for new homes, which have been identified from research, learnings from previous housing stock issues and by engaging with industry.

This is the first of a series of blogs that will look further into why we tackle these issues, the challenges we face and how we want address them. We will be continuing to engage with industry, use research to breakdown our comprehensive manual and most importantly we will be focussing on why we need to improve the quality of new homes.

What needs to be considered in new housing is the issue of space standards, flexible design, adaptability, accessibility and inclusive design, amongst many things. These all go hand in hand with issues such leisure/social activities, transport, independent living, employment, amenities and communication/interaction.

What is the Home Quality Mark? What can it do?

HQM is a voluntary and customer focused assessment and a certification scheme. It recognises new homes where performance meets best practice standards, and that is often significantly above that required by regulation. It defines a rigorous evidence based, relevant and independent voluntary standard for new homes built on tried and tested processes commonly used in the UK and internationally.

‘Home quality mark will give those buying or renting new homes the confidence that they are choosing a well built, cost-effective home that is designed and built to exceed expectations.’

Gwyn Roberts, New Homes and Communities Manager, BRE Global

What needs to be considered?

Looking at disability facts and figures from 2014, there are over 11 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability. Furthermore, the prevalence of disability rises with age. Around 6% of children are disabled, compared to 16% of working age adults and 45% of adults over State Pension age.
The topics chosen for analysis illustrates the wider context including:

  • Independent living; ‘Over a quarter of disabled people say that they do not frequently have choice and control over their daily lives’
  • Leisure, social and cultural activities; ‘Disabled people remain significantly less likely to participate in cultural, leisure and sporting activities than non-disabled people’
  •  Transport; ‘Around a fifth of disabled people report having difficulties related to their impairment or disability in accessing transport’
  • Housing: ‘Although the gap in non-decent accommodation has closed over recent years, 1 in 3 households with a disabled person still live in non-decent accommodation. 1 in 5 disabled people requiring adaptations to their home believe that their accommodation is not suitable’. We have to also recognise that this is data is of people who identify themselves as having a long term disability. So there are likely (particularly in older adults) lots of people living in non-decent housing that require an adaptation who do not identify themselves as having a disability.

These are just some of the topics, but they all are relevant not only to the development of housing, but also in facts and figures relating to employment and education. That is why HQM uses the rating system to give an overall picture by looking at the social, economic and environment factors. This is done by using issue focused indicators such as My Cost, My Wellbeing and My Footprint.

The approach from the housing white paper ‘Make better use of land for housing by encouraging higher densities where appropriate, such as in urban locations where there is high housing demand, and by reviewing space standards [and] help the most vulnerable who need support with their housing, developing a sustainable and workable approach to funding supported housing in the future’.

Space requirements are becoming more of an issue as we look to increase the number of houses built and provide rented areas for a growing, diversifying and ageing population. The goal is to secure the right provisions to accommodate future occupants and provide the opportunity for people to invest and prepare for their future.

The white paper encouraged the development of homes near to transport networks and main cities. Land availability may restrict opportunities and may require the sacrifice of space, accessibility and inclusive design in urban areas and not allow for the right provisions in rural areas. Rural infrastructure may not be the same as an urban area and would require more investment and thought in order to do so.

What is being done?

We have seen Habinteg championing inclusion in homes to provide and promote accessible homes, as well as the neighbourhood as a whole. Publications such the wheelchair housing design guide show good practice examples and promote long term benefits. In addition, the Joseph Rowntree foundation conduct research on housing, communities and ways to improve quality life.

We have witnessed many changes following the Disability Discrimination Act and Equality Act 2001. Building Regulations Part M was later developed; however, a Part M approved document is not written as a means of ensuring compliance with these legal duties. It is written to ensure that the design of a building does not create physical barriers to a building’s inclusive use, over its lifetime. The Centre for Ageing Better is an independent charitable foundation, part of the What Works network and driven by evidence to bring about change, they are working for a society where everybody enjoys a good later life.  One of their key priorities if for more people to live in homes and neighbourhoods that support a good later life.  Ageing Better welcomes the opportunity for increasing construction of housing across the UK, however these homes need to be adaptable, affordable and accessible to ensure the homes we build today can respond in time to people’s changing access needs. Rachael Docking elaborates on this point in the video below.

There has been further research in accessible and inclusive housing such as the Dementia Friendly Home at the BRE innovation park at Ravenscraig, and the announcement of the converted terraced house Dementia Friendly home at BRE Watford. As Professor Jacqui Glass said, ‘Most people experiencing dementia wish to remain at home, so the design and construction of new dwellings or home conversions are paramount. With this project we want to show how design solutions can be easily integrated within most current homes and communities to improve people’s lives’.

There is also the National Register of Access Consultants (NRAC) which is the only formal accreditation support by Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to assist in accessibility and inclusive design matters, but also to encourage the humanistic side in the development process in the UK. We have seen schools such Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children which is bright and spacious and fitted out with the latest technology, including Soundfield systems, curved walls to meet the needs of the users and, therefore, helps provides a Centre of Excellence for Deaf Education. Local Authorities and housing developers could consider design elements and approaches such as this. They are in a position to encourage the development of new homes which contain visually pleasing design adaptations for fully accessible and inclusive housing, without compromising on cost or appearance. To the untrained eye, a home such as this would look like any other, but would be designed to meet the needs of any future occupant.

What is the HQM approach?

The HQM approach to new homes is to address the issues that have been raised above, to ensure homes are accessible and inclusive to all, to future proof homes against expensive retrofit measures and improve occupants’ wellbeing by providing enough space for their functional needs. We update the manual to stay ahead, using current research and engaging with practitioners to encourage best practice. We also refer to other standards, such the Technical Housing Standards – Nationally Described Space Standards and the Lifetime Homes and Approved Document Part M, to make sure that we set criteria that will improve health and wellbeing, quality housing, suitable homes and personal savings. We have looked into improving the future of homes, including the housing stock to enable better use and availability whilst ensuring quality is integrated. HQM sets criteria for flexible and accessible design of both the internal and external spaces, ensuring that both have the flexibility to meet long term demands.

As we update our manual we are very open to feedback to make sure that we heading towards the right solutions as we push to create better quality of new homes for everyone. I wish to continue with this conversation and also engage further, update the manual and raise awareness, please do not hesitate to contact me david.maina@bre.co.uk or on twitter @_DavidMaina_ . For more updates and information on Home Quality Mark, contact us at hqm@bre.co.uk and follow us @homeqm

David Maina
About the Author
David Maina has experience working in social housing, accessible design, ergonomics, transport, R&D and planning. Working for BRE as Technical Consultant in Homes and Communities in the Home Quality Mark team.

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