A scheme to provide better and more modern living spaces for older people in South Tyneside has been shortlisted for a national award.
South Tyneside Homes, which manages and maintains homes on behalf of South Tyneside Council, has made it through to the finals of the Local Government Chronicle awards for the re-branding and upgrading of older people's accommodation in the Borough.
Faced with declining demand for sheltered housing, South Tyneside Homes secured funding from the Decent Homes programme to improve both the internal and external environments to meet the needs of current and prospective tenants. They also rebranded the schemes under the new name of Housing Plus.
Modern, spacious conservatories were built at 13 of the 26 schemes while 'skyrooms' - first floor rooms with a large external decking area - were installed at five schemes. Bespoke sensory gardens were also created at 14 Housing Plus schemes, allowing residents to interact with the space around them through touch, sight and smell.
At four of the schemes, multi-sensory rooms known as 'snoezelens' were installed. These rooms encourage the use of all five senses which is thought can help reduce memory loss, evoke normally forgotten skills and provide opportunities to retain memories. The multi-sensory rooms are the first facilities of this type in the Borough and South Tyneside Homes is now exploring the possibility of opening them up to external agencies so that their benefits can be enjoyed by a wider audience.
A key focus of the refurbishment programme was on digital inclusion. All 26 schemes now benefit from free communal Wi-Fi, CCTV for an improved feeling of security, upgraded video entry system, a Smart Noticeboard to communicate information to residents, upgraded telecare systems, a communal computer and printer for residents to use and dementia-friendly upgrades to the communal area décor.
Councillor Ed Malcolm, Chair of South Tyneside Homes Board, said: "I am delighted that our efforts to constantly innovate and improve have been recognised at a national level.
"This work to deliver enhanced environments has already proven to be a big hit for our older residents living in these schemes and an ongoing research project will reveal any additional unintended benefits which will inform any future investment of this type."
Local Government Chronicle editor Nick Golding added: "To be shortlisted for an LGC Award shows that a council's work in this particular area is something that can inspire the rest of local government. The quality of the entries goes to show that councils are striving to innovate to improve services at a time they must cut costs."