Over recent years, the UK has started to take mental health seriously, and with good reason. Some say we are living through an epidemic of loneliness. 2017 saw Prime Minister Theresa May appoint MP Tracey Crouch as minister for loneliness, after studies found that more than 9 million adults in the UK are either always or often lonely. Months later, MP Jackie Doyle-Price was named as minister for suicide prevention. UK suicide rates have dropped in recent years, but it remains the leading cause of death for men aged under 45.
A way to tackle this problem is to increase opportunities for social interaction through the development of communities. As developers, we can aim to build these opportunities into new schemes, allowing residents to gain that sense of belonging, of taking part, and engagement, that will ultimately result in increased mental wellbeing.
The burgeoning Build to Rent sector has an opportunity to contribute. The essence of a successful Build to Rent development is enabling residents to see their rented homes as a long-term option. Developers aim to do this by attempting to build a sense of community and belonging into their schemes.
Amongst other features, there is a focus on high quality, flexible amenity space. These spaces provide regular opportunities for residents to meet and take part in activities together. There is also proactive management by an on-site team, including the organisation and supervision of community events. Training can be provided to ensure that the team spends just as much time on the welfare of residents, ensuring they are happy and feel supported, than on ensuring schemes are operationally efficient.
The diversity of the Build to Rent’s target market also provides opportunities to address issues. The resident body of a Build to Rent scheme can be made up of everybody from young people, through to families, and on to older people who have reconciled with renting. This diversity offers a greater range of experiences, of feeling part of something bigger, and of connections being made between generations. This is a true community.
Developers in other sectors may not see as much opportunity to contribute as those in Build to Rent, but there are still initiatives to be taken. Even simple design specifications can help create an environment that supports mental wellbeing. For example, ensuring the availability of sufficient natural light in units, sound-proofing to minimise the impact of noise, and good provision of green spaces can all go towards improving the mood of residents.