A significant new partnership announced between the University of Bath and Guild Living will develop a diverse range of academic research focused on healthy, independent living for older people and intergenerational living.

The work will support Guild Living (a partnership with Legal & General) as it develops ‘new era’ retirement communities in urban settings, ones which combine beautiful architecture with a greater focus on wellness programmes that enable and enrich independent, active later life for residents. Guild Living is currently developing sites in Surrey as well as here in Bath – a 4.5-acre site by the riverside where the team will deliver around 300 new, age-appropriate homes.

Current projects suggest that the number of 85-year olds living in the UK is set to double by 2041 and treble by 2066 – at which point there will be 8.6 million more residents aged 65 or over. This presents multiple challenges to policymakers and healthcare professionals, both in terms of enhancing physical fitness among elderly populations and staving off frailty as well as supporting their mental wellbeing and social connections.

Estimates suggest more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone and more than a million older people say they go more than a month without speaking to friends, neighbours or family members.

Inspired in part by the hit Channel 4 series ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, which featured University of Bath Visiting Professor Malcolm Johnson and looked at how more interaction between old and young could improve individuals’ wellbeing and enhance social cohesion, a key focus for Guild Living will be on greater intergenerational activities. In addition to enhanced facilities, new Guild Living communities will host a nursery, a communal garden and restaurant options available to the wider community.

The new research partnership will involve researchers from across the University focused on topics spanning social isolation, healthy ageing, architecture and design from the Departments of Education, Psychology and Architecture & Civil Engineering, as well as others from across the University. Topics of research will include how we tackle the multiple aspects of loneliness in older people, as well as combining cross-cultural studies to better understand and develop solutions to the challenge.

Facilitated by the Industrial Research Partnerships team within the University’s Research & Innovation Services, this partnership also marks some of the progress the University is making in addressing the issue of our rapidly ageing society, which is an important component of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

Professor Malcolm Johnson explained: "As a youth-oriented society, we need to recognise that people are living longer and, consequentially, ‘old age’ is happening much later. The dominant feature of old age care is looking after people's health and safety, yet all too often, people are being left in their own homes and on their own, with minimal human contact. This risks physical, emotional and cognitive decline. Our research will investigate what interventions we can make to reinstate people's confidence, tackle one of the biggest killers, loneliness, and shift our culture towards valuing – rather than ostracising – people in their older years."

Eugene Marchese, founder at Guild Living, said: “With an ageing population and a growing social care crisis, Britain has an opportunity to embrace radical change – not just in housing or care - but how we treat older people. Guild Living’s academic approach to design, development, operations and care is motivated by a fundamental commitment to drive forward change in how we live in later years, driven by robust research. Our partner, Legal & General, shares this vision, and has the capital and long-term commitment to revolutionise the way we age. The University of Bath is one of the premier institutions in ageing research and is the perfect partner for us as we begin our journey to tackle ageism across the spectrum."

Professor Julie Barnett, Associate Dean (Research) in the University’s Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences who will be directly involved in research for this project said: “Creating environments and opportunities to enable more people to live as they want for longer is a shared ambition for many of our researchers across many disciplines at the University. We’re able to produce world-leading research and experts to tackle this challenge, but by having good partnerships like Guild Living, with which we can exchange our knowledge and realise our ambition, we can ensure the results of our efforts not only benefit our City’s residents, but our region, nation and society as a whole.”