“I think there has been some nervousness from some as to how it will be received,” says Councillor Bev Craig about the LGBT retirement community due to open in Manchester in 2020.

Manchester City Council’s executive member for adult health and wellbeing and lead member for LGBT issues adds: “In Manchester we have well-developed Extra Care schemes which are developments for older people. Essentially, we are building homes for people that they can age well in, that are already accessible when they are built.”

In 2017, the council announced that it was looking at specific problems experienced by older LGBT residents and how to address them. The plans – to create the UK’s first retirement community aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – followed a report by the Manchester-based LGBT Foundation, commissioned by the council, which suggested that older LGBT people experience higher levels of isolation and loneliness. Just before Christmas 2018, the council revealed that the flagship development would be on the site of the old Spire Hospital in Whalley Range, south Manchester.

“I’m really confident that they are going to be welcomed by the local community in Whalley Range,” says Councillor Craig. “I think what people are really excited to see is a former disused site being bought up by the council to be developed for people to live in at rents that are affordable in an area that is a very desirable area of Manchester.”

Manchester is home to the country’s largest number of LGBT people outside of London and is expected to see a swift growth in the number of LGBT residents aged over 65 in the next two decades. Meanwhile, the Extra Care is a form of retirement housing with personal care and 24-hour support available for those who need it. The projects offer independent living in apartments to rent and purchase for people aged 55 and over. 

Councillor Craig explains: “They could still be in work, living active and healthy lifestyles or they could be caring for someone and thinking about what kind of place they want to live in the future. It is a much more modernised version of what supporting housing was in the past.”

It could be said that the scheme at Whalley Range is a trailblazer given its focus on older LGBT people. “We commissioned some of our own research that looked at the experience of LGBT older people as they age. They had significant worries about being out and the healthcare needs they may experience as a result. We have examples of people in their 70s going back into the closet as a result of potentially negative home care experiences. For example, when a carer didn’t agree with LGBT rights.”

The residential community isn’t the only way Manchester is looking to support the 7000-plus older LGBT residents in the area. “All of our schemes will be open and welcome to LGBT people. We want to ensure that the specific needs of the LGBT community are catered for. We have worked with the LGBT Foundation and Stonewall Housing, who bring some expertise from London, to come up with a scheme that really targeted and catered for older LGBT people. Cllr Bev Craig

“People ask me what the differences for LGBT people might be. I’m not saying LGBT people need to be treated in a different way, but some examples have been that older gay and bi men who are living with HIV or older trans people who may or may not have completed a full medical transition might require personal care. People were writing to me and ringing me from all over the country who were currently experiencing negative types of care. Women that I spoke to in Northern England who had been among the champions in the 80s had gone back into the closet because they were fed up of having to explain it to their peers.”

The scheme doesn’t just offer support to the residential community. There will be more specific outreach work and Councillor Craig sees it as the benchmark for all establishments caring for older people.

“This is just one scheme for a population of between 7,000 and 8,000 people who identify as LGBT. We’re working on accreditation for home care and residential providers to make sure they are exemplar in their offering and understanding of LGBT people. It is a beacon of something that looks outwards.”

Once again, Manchester is at the forefront of social reform with a scheme of approximately 77 properties opening in Whalley Range in late 2020. How will Manchester City Council measure success?

“It’s about having people living there that are happy about where they live and leading healthier lives. If I was to be really ambitious, success is other local authorities taking the jump. It is an opportunity to drive up the standards of nursing and home care for LGBT older people. I hope it will be successful for decades to come.”

By Chris Park