How Pressalit helped a Scottish housing company redefine accessible living

When the Blackwood Homes and Care started its first new major home construction in nearly a decade, it had a clear goal in mind.

Already operating around 1,500 properties across Scotland, the specialist housing and care provider wanted to build another 400 new homes nationwide. The new properties would be two-bedroom apartments with an open floor plan that allows disabled and mobility-challenged residents to live independently.

But they weren’t to be modelled after traditional adapted homes, Blackwood’s development and commercial director Simon Fitzpatrick said.

“We wanted to move away from living spaces that look and feel like a clinical environment,” he said. “We wanted a chic home environment. The key philosophy behind these new homes was that they should be accessible, affordable, connected, but also beautiful.”

After a long design competition involving several architects, Blackwood decided to team up with Pressalit, a Denmark-based provider of accessible bathroom and kitchen solutions. Building on its more than 40 years of experience in developing accessible bathrooms for people with reduced mobility, Pressalit helped guide the design of what is now known as the Blackwood House.

Attractive, contemporary and adjustable

“We were drawn to Pressalit almost immediately for the look and feel of the products. Their sleek, ergonomic design and bold color palette just screamed contemporary to us,” Fitzpatrick said. “The perception of an adapted house is that it's got to be an almost medical, clinical environment where things are functional but not beautiful and Pressalit kind of fundamentally flipped that on its head.”

Thirty Blackwood Houses have now been built, and the plan is to get up to 400 within five to seven years. Each Blackwood House features an innovative floor plan with a centralized kitchen and bathroom core, no corridors, and no handles or swinging doors that might impede mobility. And each has Pressalit’s fully-adjustable, customizable kitchens and bathrooms.

Fitzpatrick said that all 30 Blackwood Houses are occupied by at least one resident who has some level of physical disability. Ages range from 19 to 80, and around a third of all residents are permanent wheelchair users, while an additional 20 percent occasionally rely on a wheelchair.

“One of the reasons the Pressalit bathrooms are so useful for us is that they are so easy to adjust,” Fitzpatrick said. “That allows us to cater to a pretty broad spectrum when it comes to the level of disability. But the one consistent thing is that the Blackwood Houses help people live more independently, and the Pressalit products are an integral part of that.”

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“More meaningful” time with care workers

While the design of the Blackwood Houses allows residents to do more on their own, Fitzpatrick said that many residents also have home care workers who come and assist them with certain tasks. Depending on the mobility of the individual resident, some help may be needed for daily activities like showering. But Pressalit’s fully-adjustable bathrooms both cut down on residents’ dependency on others and make care workers’ jobs easier when their assistance is needed.

“Our care teams have overwhelmingly said that the bathrooms have a really practical design. Things like turning circles and ensuring there is always enough space for them to do their jobs were factored into the bathrooms from the beginning,” he said. “The care workers feel safe using the bathrooms, which is really important because the strain that can be involved in moving and handling patients in a bathroom can actually cause injuries.”

Fitzpatrick added that, although they’ve never done any studies to quantify it, he “has no doubt that it is more efficient for our teams to do some of the personal care using the Pressalit kits”. But even more important than making bathroom assistance more efficient is minimizing the need for it in the first place, he said. With most residents able to use the bathroom facilities unaided, that means that the time visiting care workers spend with the residents can be “less functional and more meaningful”.

“Would you rather your care worker was showering someone or would you rather they use that same amount of time to make a cup of tea and chat to someone?” he asked. “Most would obviously prefer the latter and that's what Pressalit allows us to do. It allows people to get the best outcomes from the care they possibly can.”

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“They never fail to impress”

While Fitzpatrick is a strong believer in boosting residents’ quality of life and improving carers’ working conditions, he also freely admits that at the end of the day “we’re in the business of renting people homes.” And to do that, the homes need to appeal to prospective residents, regardless of their age, size or mobility.

“It's a lot easier to rent a property to prospective tenants if they're walking into something that looks fantastic,” he said. “We don’t necessarily market the Pressalit bathrooms, because to be honest, the products speak for themselves. They never fail to impress.”

He added that the aesthetics, functionality and adjustability of the accessible bathrooms have another financial upside: they’re less likely to need to be replaced.

“Our experience so far is that the solutions are really robust, and that helps with the overall costs,” Fitzpatrick said. “We're landlords, so we have to replace, maintain and the equipment in our properties and when you consider the full lifecycle costs, Pressalit represents pretty good value for money.”

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