Scotland's first housing-style care home is sweeping up awards

The first care home in Scotland to be laid out as supported housing rather than a traditional care institution has received an award from the Royal Institution of British Architects. The award is just one of several prizes it has picked up including commendations at the Scottish Design Awards and EAA Awards as well as a Community Care Excellence award.

The RIBA awards jury complimented the Todlaw scheme's use of housing rather than an institutional design and its creation of "quality and beauty" on a tight budget.

Oliver Chapman Associates designed the supported housing scheme in Duns, Berwickshire for Berwickshire Housing Association in agreement with NHS Borders and Scottish Borders council social work department. The £1.4m scheme was funded by Communities Scotland, Scottish Borders Council and Berwickshire Housing Association. It provided new homes for residents of a care home in a remote country house which was closing.

The 14 homes are based around a shared services facility, which includes a communal dining room and a base for carers who provide 24-hour assistance to people with substantial disabilities and illnesses.

On a budget

The project was designed to fit into Communities Scotland’s strict cost parameters while satisfying space standards for wheelchair users. To keep costs down, the form of the building was kept simple. It includes duo pitched roofs and recessed porches to avoid complicating the roof structure. Lightweight rainscreen cladding (larch and fibre cement slates) meant that founds could be slimmer and no was blockwork required even though most housing in the area is render on block. Tight control of footprint had to be repeatedly reviewed to come as close as possible to conventional affordable housing benchmarks.

All the houses are set out around a ‘tartan grid’ which creates a varying relationship between houses and the quiet street. Some houses are set back further from the road than the conventional building line, whilst others are set close to the road edge. Roads are expensive, so double banking some houses meant a smaller amount of road had to be built per house. The houses set further back connect through a covered way footpath rather than the road.


The housing is a variety of ‘core’ and ‘cluster’ types. Core houses are for people with a greater care need and are located closer to the services building where care managers are based and meals are provided for those that wish to eat communally. The core houses are connected to the services building via a linear covered way structure.

As the tenants were formerly residents of a care home in an imposing listed country house with landscaped gardens, the design brief required seamless transfer and avoidance of move-related stress. Accordingly significant attention was paid to provision of semimature and soft landscape to complement the building group and make the external environment feel as similar as possible to the gardens of the old home.

Housing, particularly for people with disabilities, needs to be able to adapt to their changing circumstances over their lifetime. All the houses avoid internal load bearing walls so that these can be re-arranged to suit varying needs at a later date. The ceiling is designed to be strong enough to accommodate ceiling mounted track and hoist systems that can lift an occupant from a wheelchair to a bed for example. All doors and windows have electric spurs for possible future upgrading with door, window and curtain opening mechanisms. Assistive technologies fitted in the houses include ceiling mounted hoists and wireless call alarm devices.

The assisted access bathrooms are particularly large so that they can accommodate a horizontal trolley should an individual need to wash lying down. Specialist care sanitaryware includes baths with capability of height adjustment. Two carers can assist at baths if needs be, by means of the double doors which open along the long side of the bath. Ceiling mounted track and hoists are provided between bathrooms and bedrooms and also in the living rooms to enable transfer from wheelchair to easy chair. Sanitary ware contrasts in colour with walls and floors for those with visual impairment.

Location, location

This particular site was chosen because of its close proximity to transport nodes and amenities (park, health centre, shops etc) which can all be accessed via safe, light, mostly pedestrian only routes. This minimizes energy consumed for travel and reduces noise and air pollution and should contribute to a reduction in road traffic accidents. The relative low density of the development ensures that all internal areas benefit from a view out and plenty of natural daylight. This increases the occupants’ sense of well-being and reduces the need for energy intensive artificial lighting.

Residents may find it easier to feel integrated into the town in the new development compared with their remote former home. The development is on the edge of the market town of Duns and residents can get into town via a Victorian park with quite a level route. Their previous accommodation was quite remote and they couldn't readily access local amenities without a major effort