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10 years on from the BBC Panorama Winterbourne View expose: are we any closer to transformational change?

In November 2020 a collaborative bid by ADS Independent Living Solutions and Reds10 was granted funding from the government’s ‘Sustainable Innovation Fund’ by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency. The purpose of the grant was the production of a Smile Homes® prototype, a person-centred intelligent home for independent living.

As the prototype nears completion, David Adams, Chief Executive of ADS Independent Living Solutions, the social enterprise behind Smile Homes®, outlines why it is so important – and why modular construction is the only viable way to deliver his vision for transformational change.

“2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the BBC Panorama expose of the Winterbourne View scandal. Sadly, for all the reports, white papers and good intent since, little has been achieved in providing new choices for independent living. All the talk of a transformational approach just hasn’t materialized to achieve the scale of change that is needed.

The fundamental problem is, not only is there nowhere near enough housing but there is nowhere near enough of the right type of housing for people who are more different and diverse than most of the rest of us. Simply put, Smile Homes® answers the call from Government and the health and social care sector for self-contained, person-centred homes in the community. Not only that but Smile Homes® are clever enough to help look after the person living in it, supporting independence, health and wellbeing.

I first came across this crisis a few years ago; my best friend had been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at just 26 years old. I also have friends and family members, young and old, that live with chronic conditions, physical challenges and crippling mental health issues. Their needs are all very different but I would say that they do have one thing very clearly in common: a fierce wish to stay independent in a house which is their home. I think this is the case for everyone – but for many this isn’t a choice.

Too often, young adults leave schools with skills to live independently but don’t have choices to move onto. They can end up back with parents where, typically, their skills are lost because parents tend to provide a ‘hotel service’, or they are found places through housing associations or in care homes which are usually a compromise and less than ideal living with older people or unsympathetic neighbours.

And that is just people who are coming of age; there are countless others already living in compromised accommodation, non-decent housing, in long-term care with the NHS or with parents who have the worry about what will happen when they can no longer care for their children.

For the luckier ones, the care system or parent collaborations might purchase a property in the open market and retrofit - usually at considerable expense (which also reduces value) - or procure a new build which can take years to plan and construct and is fraught with cost and risk. Management of small projects is immense, a key reason why 10 years after Winterbourne View so little progress has been made.

Until now.

At the same time that I was looking at what was available for friends and family and discovering the Bubb Report and the challenges faced by autistic people and those with learning disabilities, I was also involved in data centres, immersing myself in modular construction and technology. Bringing this all together with my property experience, I saw a way to deliver a different solution. Working with healthcare architect, Steve Batson with whom I had developed space for NHS Trusts and his team at Stephen George + Partners Architects , the Smile Homes® concept was born. I talked to people at seminars and conferences and took courses on the autism spectrum and ADHD and Hyperkinetic disorders to learn more about needs and what people wanted.

Our Smile Homes® solution, using modular construction focuses all of this learning on answering industry challenges and peoples’ needs.

Modular construction was something I considered essential from the outset, particularly for its ability to deliver buildings so quickly. Its high quality and cost value as compared to traditional construction were also major factors.

Reds10 were a clear choice too. They already provide customers with high performance, low carbon, SMART buildings and they focus on providing people spaces to live and thrive in. Together, we’ve been able to work out how the homes will incorporate building and organisational performance data on building use, operation, energy consumption and maintenance.

It has been fantastic seeing it all come together. Reds10 has been a great partner to work with. The team understood my vision from the outset and it has been a real collaborative effort delivering the technical design and construction especially through the constraints imposed by the pandemic to bring this to fruition.

The prototype will be a demonstrator unit and it will also be used for Research & Development purposes. I hope we’ll be able to partner with academia for research into new systems and kit, machine learning to safely support the activities of daily living and ethical use of data.

But our primary goal is to start delivering homes to make a difference to the lives of people who so desperately want to live as independently as they can in their own home, where they can receive whatever support they need to lead, as the government says, fulfilling and rewarding lives. Not a re-purposed compromise but something that is right first time. I am looking forward to a long and successful relationship working with Reds10 on these solutions.

Reds10 CEO, Matt Bennion, said:

‘10 years after Winterbourne View, the reports keep coming, the hand-wringing goes on, the demands for more Government action continue. In the meantime, our partnership is cracking on with delivering Smile Homes® and helping to meet the need for intelligent, person-centred buildings for independent living. With Smile Homes® we are truly living our cause by helping all society to live, learn and thrive in amazing spaces and we cannot wait to showcase the finished result in the not too distant future. ’

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