The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction


ARC for the Future – Blog July 2022

In this short blog, Principal Investigator for ARC for the Future, Dr Niamh Murtagh, explains what is meant by ‘resilience’ and why almshouse communities are excellent sites for research.

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ARC for the Future 

Almshouse Resilience Communities (ARC) for the Future is a research project funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust, running from February 2022 until July 2024.

Let’s start with what we mean by ‘resilience’. Resilience is about adapting successfully to change. More than coping, which is often about reacting to change and trying to avoid disruption, resilience is preparing in advance, knowing what capabilities we have and what help we can draw on, and learning from change so that we are stronger in dealing with the future. Resilience research typically focuses on what are called ‘shock events’ – the big ones like floods, heatwaves or pandemics. Thinking about our older population, we need also to consider changes that can have big impacts locally – closure of a health facility or a bus route, for instance. As well as considering ‘resilience to what?’, a definition of resilience requires an answer to the question ‘resilience of what?’. ARC for the Future will examine how almshouse communities can become more resilient, both to significant local changes and to major global shock events.

Why almshouses? The almshouse movement has its origins in monastic communities of a thousand years ago – evidence of a highly resilient model for housing people in need. Today’s residents in almshouses are typically, though not exclusively, older people of limited means. With over 30,000 residents living in accommodation provided by more than 1,500 charities, there is much we can learn about developing resilient communities in good quality homes. In addition, almshouse communities offer a microcosm of community living. From a research perspective, it can be challenging to identify a community and to examine its dynamics. With our almshouse partners, the project has excellent opportunities for lessons which can generalise to the broader community.

The project is led by UCL and we are privileged to be working alongside seven almshouse charity partners (listed below) as well as the University of Suffolk. Amongst our partners are urban and rural homes, large and very small charities, and diverse geographic settings. We will be working extensively with residents whose voices will be central to the project, as well as consulting staff and trustees. We are looking to these experts on their own lives and contexts in order to capture examples of what works. The project will create a toolkit which will showcase the experience and knowledge behind examples of resilience, providing resources for other almshouse charities and providers of housing for older people more generally.

ARC for the Future Partners
United St Saviour’s Charity
Sir Josiah Mason Trust
The Whiteley Homes Trust
Southwark Charities
Legacy East Almshouse Partnership
Durham Aged Mineworkers’ Homes Association
Bristol Charities