In 2019, I wrote an article for Northern Soul about the UK’s first LGBT retirement community which was due to be established in Whalley Range, South Manchester. The scheme, created in conjunction with the LGBT Foundation, was founded by Manchester City Council in 2017 to address specific problems faced by older LGBT residents, including loneliness and isolation.

According to an LGBT Foundation report, commissioned by Manchester City Council, older people in the LGBT community also experienced fear and discrimination in their existing accommodation and there was a desire for LGBT-specific accommodation where they can be open about their identity in later life.

The project was going great guns until 2020, and we all know what happened then. However, I was happy to see a press release arrive earlier this year announcing that the scheme was still progressing in partnership with Anchor Hanover Housing.

The council’s press release stated that Anchor Hanover Housing was selected “after demonstrating their experience in delivering similar projects across England”, including New Larchwood, an LGBT inclusive retirement housing scheme in Brighton, and “showed an ambition to create a facility that meets the needs of the city’s LGBT community”. 

So, now felt like the right time to get an update on this ground-breaking plan that will, once again, put Manchester on the map.

“We announced it when it was an idea and have faced a lot of hurdles since then,” explains Councillor Bev Craig, who has been a champion of the scheme for many years. “We demolished the site of the old Spire Hospital and found that some treatment work was needed.”

Russell-Road-pre-demolition-drone-1-CREDIT-Tony-Jukes--scaled.jpgBob Green of the LGBT Foundation has also been involved with the project since its inception.

“It has been a long journey that started in 2016,” he says. “People are desperate to move in. One gentleman said he will have to soldier on where he is at the moment. It is crucial that we do it right. We have formed a community steering group of older LGBT residents of Whalley Range.”

The new players in the scheme are Anchor Hanover, the largest provider of specialist housing and care for older people in the UK, and it is anticipated that the company will bring something different to the project.

Charles Taylor, head of new business at Anchor Hanover, says: “It is our level of experience. We are experts in older person housing, including residential care homes. We are members of House Proud and have LGBT residents’ committees and LGBT staff committees.”

Russell Road mid demolition 2Interest in becoming the first tranche of residents is already high. But the team are hesitant to rush things through.

“We want to do this properly,” says Taylor. “The drive is affordability. We are working with the steering group this summer and autumn and will put the planning application in early 2022, with work due to start late 2022/23. There are 100 flats and lots of communal spaces backed by technology and heating systems. We then test every single aspect. We don’t want someone moving in and having a bad life experience.”

The affordability element is the crucial part here, with some flats for sale and others for rent.

Craig says: “We have come a long way in terms of social acceptance. But it’s natural that some areas have a strong LGBT presence. Private schemes will meet the needs of more affluent people, but we want to help those who can’t afford to live in communities of choice.”

This all sounds impressive. But is there a danger that the LGBT community will continue to feel removed from society?

Russell-Road-pre-demolition-drone-1-CREDIT-Tony-Jukes--scaled.jpg“It isn’t LGBT exclusive, but LGBT majority,” says Green. “We don’t want to lock people into a ghetto. Many people have been through traumatic experiences. These people find themselves going back into the closet as they are frightened of the reaction, or they are preyed on due to their orientation. LGBT people don’t always have blood family, but they do have a chosen family who they can be surrounded by.”

Even with the new flagship site back on track, the project will only go so far to help the older LGBT community in Manchester. In partnership with this scheme, there are also plans to create LGBT accreditation for other care homes in the area.

Craig explains: “We did the legwork for this and were just about to launch when the pandemic hit. All I can say is stay tuned for the coming weeks and months.”

Russel Road mid demolitionGreen adds: “Andy Burnham said at his hustings that this is now a challenge to other areas in the Greater Manchester area. We also want to meet the needs of other groups like LGBT homeless, young people and other people who need community housing. It has sparked more ambitions. It is an exciting time, and I am proud that Manchester City Council have stuck with it.”

While it could still be some time before the site is able to open its doors, anticipation is certainly building.

“I want to see a big party with laughs and tears,” says Green. “After years of effort, I will be crying with relief. To say that this is their home and they have found community spirit will be overwhelming. We have been dreaming about this for decades. There was talk about something like this in the 1980s and 1990s, so it will be a day to remember. But we need to ensure that [the project] continues.”

By Chris Park

Images courtesy of Manchester City Council. Main image credit: Tony Jukes.