We are looking to provide a supportive environment that will become a beacon of best practice, by building affordable housing that serves the needs of the older LGBT community and that offers an excellent quality of life to its residents.
There is currently no LGBT-specific housing for older people in the UK, and few positive examples of where the needs of older LGBT people are meaningfully considered when new housing policy or provision is being developed. The consequences of such inaction can be devastating for people who have experienced prejudice and disadvantage at different stages of their lives and where older age will mean increasing vulnerability. Tonic’s vision is to develop housing and services with a distinct LGBT identity and ethos, and in doing so to provide the older LGBT community with greater choice and control over services that are more supportive, safe, and culturally appropriate.
As we embark upon a year of research and consultation (starting in January 2015), we are reluctant to pre-empt this discovery phase with pre-conceived notions of an ideal outcome. We approach this period with a true sense of possibility in uncovering a fresh and untraveled path. However, we have been very impressed by the progress made in support of older LGBT people living in other countries, not least in Germany.
In June 2013, we visited an initiative in Berlin which provides older LGBT people in that city with many reasons to feel more optimistic about growing older. Lebensort Vielfalt is Europe’s first multi-generational home for LGBT people and opened in June 2012, providing its residents with an environment where they can be open about their sexuality. Amongst others, we spoke with Peter, a British resident who had opted to live in this open and accepting environment as “most of my life I have lived with other gay people”. Peter wasn’t prepared in his retirement years to enter a closet that he had never been in before. His desire to continue to live his life openly and honestly is shared by many others in Berlin- there are currently 200 people on the waiting list for one of the 25 apartments in the development.
Since that inspirational visit to Berlin, we have accelerated our own efforts to establish an equivalent space in the UK. From the outset, we have been clear that any space must include affordable housing so that those with the greatest need and the fewest choices can be supported through Tonic.
We are equally ambitious for the space to be more than just a residential care home. We envisage a hub providing businesses and services that are relevant to both the residents and the surrounding community, whether LGBT or otherwise. In Berlin, the café, bar, and restaurant provide a community focus and succeed in generating income for the managing organisation.
Our vision will continue to be shaped and influenced by other existing models in the UK and internationally that are trailblazing new ways of working with older people in general, as well as by people like you who are interested in seeing positive social change.
If you would like to follow our progress, or if you would like to participate directly in our community consultations, you can do so through social media or by registering below.