Studies have shown that, compared with their peers, LGBT+ retirees generally have worse health outcomes, are more likely to live alone without family support, are less likely to feel a sense of belonging to their local community and are more likely to feel that their specific care needs are not met or even considered. It seems that existing retirement provision does not adequately cater for the LGBT+ community, a community which continues to grow at a national level according to recent census data.
Founded in 2014, Tonic Housing is the UK’s first LGBT+ affirmative retirement housing provider. A non-profit, community led organisation, focused on creating “vibrant and inclusive LGBT+ affirmative communities where people can share common experiences, find mutual support and enjoy their later life”.
Cratus recently spoke to Cat Halsan (she/her) Head of Communications at Tonic Housing, a communications specialist who has worked in the queer housing sector for over 12 years and who was featured in the Top 100 Powerful Lesbians list in 2021.
Can you tell me more about Tonic Housing and what your mission is?
We were founded in 2014 to address the issues of loneliness and isolation within the older LGBT+ communities, and the need for specific housing and support provision as there was none before we opened Tonic@BankHouse in 2021. Rather than just being ‘LGBT+ friendly’, our services are community-led and actively affirming the lives, needs, desires and histories of LGBT+ people.
The second part of our mission is to amplify the voices of older LGBT+ people around their housing, care and support needs. We both lead and contribute to vital research, such as the Building Safe Choices report 2020 and work collaboratively across the care, housing and LGBTQ+ sectors. We influence and inspire local government policy and decision makers, and share best practices with other housing providers and developers on how they can be more LGBT+ inclusive and affirming with their customers and residents.
Why are LGBT+ retirement communities needed? Where are the gaps in the current Built Environment sector which mean that existing retirement communities aren’t providing fully inclusive spaces?
In our Building Safer Choices report which surveyed over 600 older LGBT+ Londoners, 79% said that they wanted either LGBT+ specific or accredited provision. Only 1% would consider a general retirement community. Tonic offers a choice to older LGBT+ people to live within a community-led affirming environment and to benefit from mutual support in later life.
There are many retirement communities, which have a predominantly heteronormative culture, in which LGBT+ people say they do not feel included or welcome and this can result in people feeling that they have to ‘go back into the closet’ in order to fit in. This is why Tonic’s mission is to be both a provider of LGBT+ affirming retirement communities and an advocate for raising awareness and improvement in mainstream provision.
There are other housing and care organisations that are ‘LGBT+ friendly’ and they can they can access accredited training within the LGBTQ+ Housing sector such as Stonewall Housing, who deliver a range of training models and accreditation via their Inclusion Standard.
How do you ensure that the voices of the LGBT+ community are heard during the consultation process?
Tonic Housing is a community-led initiative. Our Community Panel is made up of people who are interested in Tonic’s work, maybe looking to become future residents, are over 50+ and identify as LGBT+. The Community Panel is much more than just part of the consultation process, with the Panel directly informing the Board of the communities’ requirements that has been at the forefront of developing Tonic’s specification of both the built environment and our services.
How can other retirement community developers take steps towards ensuring that the voices of the LGBT+ community are heard and that developments are designed to be fully inclusive?
First and foremost, get to know who your clients, customers and potential / future residents are. Reflect on what you do internally and externally to celebrate and acknowledge LGBT+ people and culture. What non-profits and charities are you supporting? How do you capture your equality data? What networks do you have in place? What training have you received?
Once you’ve taken some first steps to engaging and embracing LGBT+ communities, you’ll be in a better position to gain trust, and ask your users for their valuable voices and experiences.
You can also get involved with Tonic on our journey, and learn from us. We’d love to hear from organisations interested in potential partnerships and volunteering opportunities.
What’s next for Tonic Housing?
Our priority has been ensuring that once opened, the UK’s first LGBT+ affirming retirement community Tonic@BankHouse thrives, and most importantly that we continue to learn from our residents and prospective residents. We are now developing our strategy for future growth in urban locations across the UK which reflect the demand from older LGBT+ people.
We are in the process of applying to become a Registered Provider of Social Housing, which will enable us to offer a wider range of tenures in future to meet the demand from our communities.
We are open to hearing from and collaborating with potential partners to develop our ambitions.
For more information
General enquiries: [email protected]
For advice or help on engaging the community
Contact Ashleigh Mclellan, Senior Account Manager – Planning
Contact Gemma Gallant, Managing Director – Communities + People