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Social enterprise Longevity Design House getting the measure of the needs of Hong Kong's older g

A social enterprise is using unwanted construction materials to make homes elderly-friendly

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 July, 2015, 3:19am

UPDATED : Friday, 17 July, 2015, 3:19am

Ray Tang (left) and Vincent Mo from Longevity Design House take measurements for a sofa handle for 74-year-old Chan Cheung-tai in her Tsing Yi home. Photo: Jonathan Wong

very time Chan Cheung-tai steps into her bathroom, she enters a danger zone.

Rusting pipes leak water onto slippery tiles while the deep bathtub makes getting in and out a real challenge. For a 74-year-old with wobbly knees, it is a recipe for disaster.

"It is very hard for me to get into the tub," she said. "My knees and back are sore, and I cannot stand or walk for long."

In fact, her entire home at the 29-year-old Tsing Yi Estate is falling apart because of water damage and a lack of maintenance, but Chan - like many other elderly homeowners - cannot afford to fix the myriad of woes.

"It is very typical of cases we have seen," said Ray Tang Tsz-kit, co-founder of Longevity Design House, a social enterprise that uses unwanted construction materials to make homes more elderly-friendly - a concept neglected in most interior designs.

Tang and four others aged 29 to 30 founded the enterprise in April, putting to use their expertise in interior design, construction and marketing.

They had seen how many elderly people had nothing apart from their properties, and were also the group that found it the hardest to seek support.

Chan, for instance, relies on her household's total income of roughly HK$20,000 her son and daughter earn, and cannot spare the HK$200,000 it would take to put the flat right.

But the Longevity team plan to install a shower cubicle in place of the bathtub and add in anti-slip mats and handles.

"A bathroom has to be anti-slip," interior designer Vincent Mo Wing-chung said. "The heights of sofas and beds must not be too low, or else it would be hard for the elderly to get up."

To pay for the project, Chan can apply for a maintenance grant under a Housing Society scheme that offers HK$40,000 to each eligible private-housing owner aged 60 or above.

She qualified for the scheme although hers was a public housing flat, because she had bought it 12 years ago under a programme allowing long-time tenants to own their rental homes.

Eligible households can have their floors and walls paved with leftover tiles provided by the construction firm of another Longevity co-founder, Tony Leung Ka-tsun. Leung said his firm had about 2,700 square feet of tiles worth some HK$67,000 left over each year that were being kept at an open-air storage space in Sheung Shui.

"Some materials could be in storage for up to 10 years," he said. "We would just throw them away when space ran out."

The tiles can be used to lay kitchen and bathroom floors for more than six households in Tsing Yi and North district. Longevity aims to reach 60 households by the end of the year.

For co-founder Lawrence Lui Wai-ching, the project has given him a deeper understanding of the needs of elderly residents, which tend to go unnoticed.

"They have their own property, but their living environment is poor," Lui said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Getting the measure of city's older generation

South China Morning Post