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Innovative housing for wellbeing: Respond’s Brain Health Village

As Ireland’s leading construction-led Approved Housing Body and service provider, Respond is committed to creating sustainable communities that enhance the well-being of their residents.

The Brain Health Village project, spearheaded by Respond in collaboration with the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) Trinity College Dublin, represents a pioneering effort to integrate brain health principles into housing design and community development.

Respond currently has 2,095 social and cost rental homes in construction nationally. This innovative project, located in Rathcoran, Baltinglass, has already garnered attention, winning the Chartered Institute of Housing award for Excellence in Health and Wellbeing 2024.

A new approach to housing

The Brain Health Village is a proof-of-concept initiative, demonstrating that high-quality housing and community development—promoting creativity, health, and social connectedness—can yield long-term brain health benefits. The initial phase involved introducing the brain health concept to initially to Respond staff and then to tenants and the wider community, creating a framework for a brain health-friendly environment and identifying short- and medium-term initiatives.

Rathcoran: A model of regeneration

The Rathcoran development/scheme itself seamlessly blends into the existing Baltinglass community, where the former convent and schoolhouse were regenerated. The development plan respected and preserved the historical building, while incorporating new homes. Community involvement was crucial throughout the planning and development process, ensuring that the scheme met the needs of both existing and future residents. This collaborative approach, involving the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Respond, resulted in a sustainable and inclusive community.

The development includes 56 homes next door to a primary healthcare centre, catering to individuals, families of all ages, and refugees from Iraq and Syria under the Refugee Resettlement Programme. With a mix of dwelling types, sizes, and tenures, Rathcoran offers diverse housing options, providing for an inclusive community. Communal areas promote social interactions, promoting a sense of belonging among residents.

Understanding brain health

Brain health encompasses physical, emotional, social, and cognitive well-being and is deeply connected to living conditions, including housing quality. More traditional housing models can often overlook this critical aspect. Respond, through its partnership with GBHI, addresses this gap by integrating brain health considerations into sustainable community development.

The Brain Health Village Framework

The Brain Health Village Project is built on a robust framework, developed with international expertise across various domains. This conceptual model guides the creation of brain health-informed communities and is based on principles of co-creation, ensuring tailored solutions for local communities.

Pillars of the framework:

  1. Life course approach: Building awareness and understanding of brain health among community members and policymakers, focusing on collective actions to promote brain health and reduce stigma.
  2. Stakeholder engagement: Recognising the community as part of a broader network, navigating political and policy landscapes to secure resources and support for brain health initiatives.
  3. Equity and security values: Creating equitable, safe, and inclusive communities, emphasising personal identity, social inclusion and the balance between stability and change.
  4. Intergenerational community and creativity: Valuing contributions from all ages and encouraging creativity and the arts as tools for well-being and community building.
  5. Built and natural environment: Applying universal design principles to create sustainable, accessible and pleasant spaces, integrating natural and digital elements to promote social interaction and reduce stress.
  6. Service availability and integration: Ensuring access to a range of services and resources, including leisure, cultural, educational, and healthcare services, and integrating these into the community fabric.

Brain health initiatives

Beyond physical housing, the development emphasises efficient housing management and tenant satisfaction. Respond has a 92 per cent tenant satisfaction rate and the Tenant Relations Officer (TRO) in Rathcoran has been instrumental in establishing strong community connections, ensuring responsiveness to tenants’ evolving needs.

Respond has also partnered with local support groups such as Age Friendly Ireland to create an Age Friendly Lifetime Community in Baltinglass, where older people can live as independent, active, valued members of their community. This project aims to be the first Age Friendly Lifetime Community, meeting and supporting older tenants’ needs.

Recognising the importance of nature for brain health, the project’s beautiful environment exemplifies how housing can integrate with natural surroundings. Respond has secured funding for an Artist in Residence programme, engaging tenants in an outdoor Eco Art project, again emphasising social connections and overall wellbeing.

Outcomes of the Brain Health Village

The Brain Health Village project has achieved significant milestones in its initial pilot phase, showcasing the impact of integrating brain health into housing and community development. The enthusiastic response from tenants highlights the project’s success:

  • 100 per cent agreed that brain health should be a priority for social landlords.
  • 92 per cent reported an enhanced understanding of brain health.
  • 92 per cent committed to making positive changes in their and their families’ lives.

The Brain Health Village model is not just a local solution but a potential blueprint for global application, influencing policy at various levels. It advocates for a comprehensive approach to brain health and housing, emphasising their importance in individual and community wellbeing at local, regional, and national scales.

T: 01 808 7700
E: info@respond.ie
W: www.respond.ie