A Saltire Award-winning concept that unites the priorities of healthcare, housing provision and tenant welfare has welcomed its first tenants in the Highlands.
14 people can now call the ‘FitHome’ village in Dalmore, Alness, their home, as the pilot development delivered by Albyn Housing Society, in partnership with Carbon Dynamic and NHS Highland, welcomes its first residents ranging from 18 to 90 years old.
As a concept, the ‘FitHome’ aims to help people live safe, well and independently in their communities for longer by using data-gathering technology and Artificial Intelligence to help detect the onset of ill health and potentially even prevent episodes such as falls.
The new residents will now go on to help test the concept and shape the development of future FitHome projects, some of which are already in planning for areas including Nairn and Inverness. As part of this process, they will provide feedback on design and layout, test new technology and work with partners to guide future developments.
New tenant, 19-year-old Dylan Bogue who lives with muscular dystrophy said: “Living in the new house has given me my independence back, I used to live with my Dad — which was great — but being in a home that I can now call my own is amazing. I didn’t think this would ever be possible and now that I’m here, it’s even better than I thought it would be. The homes feel like any regular home but with the added benefit of having my wellbeing monitored around the clock.
“This will be a life-changing concept for some individuals, including me, and importantly their extended families. Nobody will have to worry about their elderly relatives, or younger relatives for that matter, being on their own if they fall or have an accident. Most importantly, residents can stay in their home, in the community that they have grown with for as long as they feel able to.”
The project has received support and official endorsement from Highland MSP Maree Todd. At a recent parliamentary event, she spoke of the project saying: “This project is an exemplary showcase of innovation coming out of the Highlands that demonstrates how cross-sectoral working in areas such as housing, health, care, construction, education and training can lead to pioneering new approaches that keep Scotland at the leading edge.”
Lucy Fraser, Head of Innovation at Albyn Housing Society, explained: “At the heart of the FitHome concept is a shared vision which states that everyone should have the choice to live safe and well in their homes and communities for as long as they want.
“What’s more, it demonstrates a collaborative approach to wellness by combining the principles of health, care and housing with modular home design and ‘Internet of Things’ technology — something we must embrace and take advantage of as we delve deeper into the digital age.
“Just as important, the FitHome and its social business model is replicable throughout Scotland, the UK and globally, delivering a real solution that puts the customer first as well as directly addressing inequality and growing healthcare challenges, and creating training and employability opportunities.”
The origins of the FitHome go back to 2008 when sadly, a tenant was found dead in his home, having lain unnoticed for over a year. Vowing to put new preventative systems in place, Albyn commissioned new research exploring potential solutions only to find that the ideal fix didn’t yet exist. As a result, the society decided to develop its own system that could be adopted across its growing portfolio of homes.
The project concepts have been supported by a Scottish Government housing grant, funding from the Inverness and Highland City–Region Deal and finance from Triodos Bank.
Graeme Galloway, Relationship Manager at Triodos Bank UK, said: “Scottish innovations are globally renowned and the FitHome is a gigantic leap forward in social care. At Triodos, we work to make sure that projects like this get the funding and financial support they need to have a positive impact on the local community.”
Researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands will research proof of concept with financial support from the Digital Health and Care Institute. The Data Lab is also supporting the project by funding research into predicting falls, which is being led by Professor Susan Craw, an Artificial Intelligence expert at Robert Gordon University.