The future of the almshouse community

Aaron Spencer

Partner & Head of Private Client

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June 21, 2023

Categories Charity Law

For centuries almshouses have played a pivotal role in providing affordable housing for those in need. Supporting vulnerable members of the community is a challenge that societies have always faced. However, in a time of severe shortage of affordable housing, the importance of almshouses continues to be prevalent.

The past

The history of almshouses goes back to medieval times when religious groups cared for the poor.

A unique feature of an almshouse charity which has been consistent throughout the ages is that they are governed by local, philanthropic trustees. One of the oldest local almshouses is Eastbridge Hospital, Greyfriars Chapel and Franciscan Gardens in Canterbury. Interestingly it was founded in 1176, six years after Thomas a Becket was killed in the cathedral, to help manage the huge numbers of pilgrims visiting his tomb. Eastbridge Hospital has been providing shelter and support to local people for 800 years, and it has been a permanent home to many elderly residents for four centuries.

The present

In 2018 over 2,500 people aged over 60 were officially homeless. Therefore, despite significant societal changes and advancements, almshouses continue to serve a crucial role in today’s world. Whilst almshouses are thought of to be an old model, more are being built today than have ever been before; they have become vital components of social welfare systems, providing safe and affordable housing.

While some almshouses still have religious affiliations, many are more inclusive and diversified; welcoming people a whole host of groups (retired fishermen, miners, retails workers) as well as the elderly. They are often managed by charitable organizations or local authorities, working hand in hand to offer a range of assistance to residents, including care packages throughout Social Services.

The future of almshouses

As we step into the future, the role of the almshouse is likely to evolve further in response to societal shifts and emerging challenges. Here are a few key considerations for the future of almshouses:


Almshouses of the future will need to demonstrate sustainability both in their day-to-day management and when embarking on projects to ensure they are as environmentally friendly as possible.

Embracing technology

Advancements in technology may enhance the quality of life for almshouse residents. Embracing and embedding smart home solutions, telehealth services, and assistive devices for example, will help promote independence and improve healthcare access.

Collaborative Partnerships

Increased collaboration with key individuals, local businesses and educational institutions can provide residents with employment opportunities, vocational training, and educational scholarships, empowering them to regain independence and contribute to society.

Almshouses have a rich historical legacy as a haven for the vulnerable. While they have evolved to meet the changing needs of society, almshouses continue to face challenges in providing comprehensive care and support. However, with innovative solutions and collaborative efforts, almshouses have the potential to continue to play a pivotal role in shaping a future where everyone has access to safe, affordable, and inclusive housing.

For further information contact Partner, Aaron Spencer on 01227 763939.