Encountering Sustainability and Innovation: Future Homes Field Visit in Newcastle

By Maryham AbdelMalak, MSc Sustainability, Culture and Development, Durham University

The PEOPLE project in the UK is researching the wellbeing of the ageing population and the role of telecare systems in ensuring a sustainable, graceful and a prolonged independent living. Our collaboration with Durham’s industrial partner, Kemuri, entails assessing the use and effectiveness of their telecare systems in individual homes and in sheltered housing in the North East of the UK through community engagement with the targeted population.

In the second half of the Learning Cycle, we have reached out to several community organizations and housing associations that engage with the elderly in Durham. One of the groups we work with is a UK-wide organization that provides a learning platform for retired and semi-retired individuals to foster educational pursuits and social engagement with peers through sharing experiences and learning opportunities. The other institution we approached is a religious community that provides a supportive and a welcoming environment for the elderly to connect with others and to get involved in a wide array of spiritual and social activities. We have conducted individual interviews and organized focus groups to help us develop solutions that are responsive to community needs.

As part of the experiential and practical learning process of the PEOPLE project, the Durham team had an exceptional opportunity to share our experiences and reflections on people-centered products and services with community stakeholders who are planning and executing community projects. In March, three of the research team members and our PEOPLE Project supervisor in Durham University headed to Newcastle Upon Tyne to visit the Future Homes project.

UK PEOPLE team at Future Homes, Newcastle upon Tyne (photo: Zain Sultan)

Not to leave you wondering what Future Homes project is! Future Homes is an innovative, sustainable, technologically powered and zero/low energy housing solution that addresses climate change challenges and community needs through creating an enabling living environment for the ageing population in particular, as well as people in different age groups. The design of the residential buildings ensures the integration of several forms of technology powered assistive devices and telecare systems in the provided units to help sustain a healthy living scheme. Future Homes adopted a participatory approach throughout the planning phase through the inclusion of several community representatives, in order to engage them in the thinking and decision-making processes through organized community workshops and public conversations.

(This photo and cover photo: Maryham AbdelMalak)

The model of Future Homes was an inspiring one, as it provided us with a practical insight on the dynamics, complexities and processes of developing gap-filling and innovative solutions that help in creating social change through applied best designs and smart energy systems. Furthermore, this experience provided a hands-on learning opportunity through communicating ideas and witnessing the development of an energy-efficient community-wide project. It has also enabled us to reflect in a new light on the approaches and methods used in the context of our research, as well as expanding our imaginary of sustainable energy integration in people-focused services.