A caring place: presentation at Cross Party Group

A picture of the facade of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh
Published: 03/07/2018

We are developing and inviting a conversation on town centre living and a caring place touching upon our ten principles of a caring place. In this blog Steve Malone, Principal Architect with Architecture and Design Scotland, shares some thoughts on ‘a caring place’ as presented at the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Towns and Town Centres in 2018.

At Architecture and Design Scotland we are exploring the benefits and barriers to town centre living. As part of a three-year programme we have been focusing on the idea of a caring place using ‘care’ as a way of looking at town centres, and exploring opportunities for bringing together care and placemaking to tackle the challenges of the ageing population.

What is a caring place?

We asked this question at an advisory group workshop we ran at the start of 2018, which brought together disciplines from policy, health and place. And, briefly, the conclusion we came to was:

  • it is a diverse place that provides choices for the people that live there
  • providing care for the place, and care for the people simultaneously
  • where you can get to things and support can get to you

Understanding the people for a caring place

To help build a narrative around a caring place, and understand what it might look like, we commissioned service designers to develop a set of fictitious personas – ‘people narratives’ – for a range of folk aged 55+, representing the ‘younger older’ through to the elderly that might live in Scottish towns and including a mix of carers and those cared for.

The personas included key aspects such as: age, social and family life, health & care needs and responsibilities; home and local area; their concerns, dreams and aspirations - to help us understand their lives and needs.

Independent – Dependent

Within this small sample there are differing housing and care needs depending on their health, wellbeing, networks of friends and family around them. Some are still independent, others are partly or fully dependent on the care of others. Along this ‘spectrum of care’ this translates to different forms of living typologies (from independent living; to retirement community; nursing home; through to hospice/special care facility). Each with different implications (in terms of cost, level of care, location in the town and the community which can impact on quality of life).

Understanding care

But the problem isn’t necessarily ageing – it is also about a lack of choice. In a caring place there are opportunities for joining up existing networks (eg. linking people with community groups and initiatives, young and old, nurseries and care homes), and using design to think creatively about making the most out of ordinary spaces and places in our towns and neighbourhoods. To provide a sense of:

  • place – familiarity with surroundings, providing benefits in terms of knowing a place, routes to and from your home, feeling settled
  • purpose – activities, having things to do
  • support – from others and having people to do things with - a support network of friends, neighbours, and family
  • worth – feeling wanted (being part of a group, eg. Men’s Shed, Community Art Group, or volunteering at a local primary school or charity).


Within a place, services can be delivered at different scales:

  • hyper local - our immediate home environment
  • local - centralized care ‘hub’ somewhere within the town
  • regional - providing specialize support; hospital, maybe in nearby town, serving wider area

By supporting more people to make more day-to-day choices at home and in their neighbourhood, we can help prevent an escalation in using services like doctors and hospitals - a shared ambition in the public service sector.

Reduced demand could allow these services to improve, and specialise, and target need better. If / when you do need to go to a community care hub or hospital we want the experience of getting there, and the quality of environment when you arrive to be good. The location of services within a place is also significant – as are the quality of the spaces in between care facilities and home.

This resonates with revised National Planning Framework, with its emphasis on wellbeing, and the values it sets out including kindness, dignity, and compassion. 

Realistic medicine

We should focus on socialisation of care and relationships - building choices for people to be independent with support. Doing stuff with people rather than to them. This could be achieved by improving activities which enhance sense of purpose, worth and support.

And thinking about designing moments along a route or journey to promote interaction and to create settings for services:

  • The house as a setting for service support and digital care.
  • Places where people come together and do things…a stalled space, community garden (such as Backlands Community Garden just off the High Street in Dunbar, or communal spaces within residences, such as McAuley Place in Ireland – which provides a public tea room, community centre, volunteer centre and garden along with 53 retirement flats).
  • Places where generations look after each other, eg. intergenerational nursery school and daycare (Apples and Honey Nightingale House, London which provides meaningful interaction between nursery children and elderly residents, is a good example of this); and places to be...a nice place to sit outside, in a park or garden under a nice tree.

Town centres supporting care

Our town centres can accommodate these things, and provide spaces for a sense of purpose, support and worth in a familiar sense of place. We need to be thinking about where these components could be located, by understanding existing town context, and the spatial needs of services and facilities.

We could provide these things in new buildings – or we could instead map this into buildings we already have, to make better use of emptiness within town centres. The advantage of doing doing this in a town centre is around opportunities for providing care and support in a familiar setting and near services – rather than somewhere on the edge of a town.

Lots of small things can come together to make a difference, enhancing ordinary environments through:

  • improving the quality of streets and public spaces and making sure they’re well maintained.
  • connecting things up, making it easier to get to places.
  • creating a network of walkable spaces and local choices, to encourage people to move around, be healthy and social and part of the community.
  • creating local choices for participation – a greater availability of things.

Headline image credit: Chris Flexen on Unsplash

Share your stories on a caring place

We are developing and inviting a conversation on a caring place through our social media channels and on this website. If you'd like to share you knowledge and experiences of what it takes to design for a caring place, get in touch.

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