Boom in almshouse building to meet growing need

15th January 2020

New almshouses are being built at the fastest rate since the Victorian era, with an increasing belief that their emphasis on neighbourliness and support increases residents’ wellbeing, according to the Almshouse Association.

Almshouse charities provide low-cost homes for vulnerable adults and/or elderly people who would otherwise struggle financially. York alone has 143 almshouse homes, operated by 11 charities, and several of them are managed by Letters.

An ageing population and shortage of social housing has brought increased need across the country. Almshouse charities are responding by building and planning more homes, in a boom the Almshouse Association has compared to the mid-19th Century.

A thousand new homes have been built in the last ten years and up to 700 are under construction or in the pipeline, with notable expansions and new developments in Durham, Colchester, Wokingham and south London.

“Driven by local philanthropy”

Nick Phillips, the Almshouse Association’s Chief Executive, said: “Almshouses are very much driven by local philanthropy and the wish to provide a sanctuary, home and a good life for people in need. That need continues today and will continue to rise.”

He added: “We’re also finding out more about the mental health benefits of almshouses which I think will lead to increased interest in the model as a means of offering support. It’s mostly anecdotal at the moment but we are supporting research now underway.

“Almshouses create a micro community, often of six to 20 people, and are designed to promote communication and neighbourliness – which is why they’ve often been built around a courtyard. They’re also driven by the charitable objective of helping people in need rather than monetary considerations, and that makes a big difference for the people living there.”

A 2016-17 study of women residents of a small almshouse village in Surrey found they lived longer than even the wealthiest living elsewhere. The active, community lifestyle was credited with the fact 11 out of the 250 residents were over 100 years old and comparisons over the decades found that residents had lived up to 4.9 years longer than the median for a woman in England and Wales.

“I’ve seen the benefits at first hand”

Letters’ Managing Director Anya Mathewson said: “We support almshouses’ aims of helping people to live independently and with dignity in supportive surroundings, which is why we help charity trustees manage the day to day operation of almshouses on a bespoke basis.

“I’ve seen at first hand the benefits of almshouses in terms of day-to-day comfort and improved mental health and I think the expansion of the movement will be very effective in helping to meet what is undoubtedly a growing need.”

Anya and the Letters team are delighted to speak to almshouse trustees about how we might help manage their almshouse. Please contact us for an informal chat. For more information about our almshouse services, click here.