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Young people are lockdown’s losers – but architects can help

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Designs need to adapt to mitigate the stresses highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic, says dRMM director and Quality of Life Foundation founder Sadie Morgan

The medical opinion is pretty clear: older people and those with an underlying health condition are most vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus. But, in the longer term, it is people under 35 who look to be some of the biggest losers from the crisis.

Young people across the country have become accustomed to a housing crisis which offers bleak prospects for a good quality of life. High proportions of salaries going on rent, less space and little hope of ever owning a home are problems exacerbated by the economic impacts of the virus. 

Working from home in cramped shared spaces, and the precariousness of much of the work carried out by younger people, brings the issue of space and living environments to the forefront of discussion.

The Resolution Foundation thinks the prospects of 16 to 24-year-olds could be ‘scarred’ for years, causing long-term damage to their pay and job prospects. Work by Shelter shows how young people are one of the groups at highest risk from homelessness as they struggle to pay their rent.  

Research carried out by the Quality of Life Foundation, of which I am a chair, and Portland Communications has shown the extent of young people’s dissatisfaction with their living conditions, with a significant split between city and country. Our nationwide poll of 1,000 people told us that nearly half of people aged 18-24 are not satisfied with where they live.

So what can we do about it? How can we make sure young people’s quality of life does not deteriorate as a result of their housing situation during this pandemic?

As individuals, we can support Shelter’s call to ensure people have safe and secure homes  throughout, and beyond, the crisis. As businesses, we can be mindful of the difficulties faced by young people living and working from home, and support them wherever we can.

And as designers, we can put our efforts into creating spaces and places that are more adaptable to the stresses of the 21st century. This could be as simple as creating adaptable furniture, like a bed that can turn into a desk, or compact ergonomic chairs that wouldn’t be out of place at either a desk or a kitchen table.

When designing new buildings, we can and must create homes that are adaptable to different uses

When designing new buildings, we can and must create homes that are adaptable to different uses, with minimum national space standards that allow multiple users to work and live in comfort. They must have some form of outdoor space, whether a balcony or a garden, and they must be dual aspect to allow natural light in throughout the day.

The shift in how we design places that nurture health, wellbeing and happiness must take place at a local, regional and national level. 

At a local level, it means creating or enlarging green spaces so people have access to nature and a break from being inside, as well as the widening of pavements and the reclaiming of streets to allow people to socialise safely. 

At a regional level, it means finding ways to prioritise people over cars, accelerating the green infrastructure that we know is better for us and the environment. 

At a national level, it means the public and private sectors collaborating to produce the affordable, sustainable and high-quality social housing that we know we are capable of producing – but pushing government, local authorities and developers to do it at scale. 

If you’re in a position to enjoy the sort of space that makes homeworking a welcome side effect of the coronavirus lockdown, spare a thought for those for whom the reality of working from home – or having a home they can afford – is really beginning to bite.

Sadie Morgan is a founding director of dRMM and chair of the Quality of Life Foundation

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Other commentators have opined that older generations whilst physically more vulnerable are actually more psychologically robust, judging by conversations with our own remaining older relatives this seems to be true on the whole.

    Perhaps the greater issue is that younger people have become so used to a world which is entirely laid out for them in terms of education and 'fulfilment' that they simply dont have the resilience to deal with what is happening currently.

    What is far more troubling is that an increasingly self-obsessed and 'atomised' society will become even more so, and this is an inter-generational matter that will affect us all.

    Young people become old people after all.

    The issue of un-affordable housing is an elephant that has been in the room for years and will never really change unless the notion of housing as a financial asset is fundamentally rewritten.

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