Meet the housemates with a 68 year age gap

By Becky Morton
BBC political reporter

  • Published
Media caption,

'We get on like a house on fire'

Florence is 95. She's partially sighted, an RAF veteran, and used to be a keen tennis player.

She also has a 27-year-old housemate called Alexandra.

When Florence's husband died she said she "desperately needed company". She was one of nine million adults in the UK who say they are often, or always, lonely.

By chance, Florence came across homesharing in the letters page of a newspaper. The initiative aims to tackle loneliness by matching older people looking for companionship with a younger person in need of somewhere to live.

It's a win-win arrangement - in return for keeping an older person company and helping around the house, a homesharer gets low-cost accommodation.

In 2016, Homeshare UK, a network of schemes in the UK, reported more than 200 active matches in cities including Leeds, Bristol and London.

Florence had her first homesharer ten years ago. Since then she's had a number of different housemates.

Her most recent is Alexandra, a masters student from Newcastle. We spoke to them about how it has worked out.

Image caption,
Alexandra and Florence have lived together for around four months.

What made you want to do a homeshare?

Florence: I wanted to do it because I was very lonely. When you retire from work you stop using your brain, you're not as active as you used to be and you're bored to tears. You are used to leading an active life and suddenly there is nothing.

My husband had died. My children had married and gone away. In a way it was quite frightening because you don't know if you're going to fall, is something going to happen to you? Suddenly you're a bit worried about even walking up to the local shops. So it's very important to have somebody to talk to instead of sitting here looking at four walls and thinking 'what am I going to do now'.

Alexandra: On a completely practical level it's been important to me as a way I can come to London and do my studies otherwise it would have been very difficult. The other things that I've got out of it that I wasn't necessarily expecting is I have a new friend and somewhere that's a really homely environment. Somewhere I can feel safe and not isolated in a really big city.

What is it like living with someone from a different generation?

Florence: I've had different people over the years and you have to make the effort. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. At the moment it's working beautifully. We get on well together, which surprises me a bit because Alex comes from the North and I'm a Southerner!

Alexandra: We got on like a house on fire. I don't think it matters that we're from a different generation. We've got similar interests and I enjoy hearing about the things Florence can tell me from her early life and I think she enjoys hearing about what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis. My granny's going to be very excited because Florence has got me watching Coronation Street now, which I've resisted for many years!

Image source, Family photo
Image caption,
Florence (left) was in the RAF during world war two.

What do other people think about it?

Alexandra: I think people are surprised, especially when I describe Florence as my housemate. But on the whole once I explain what it's all about people say 'what a great idea'. People do ask but I would just call Florence a friend. I wouldn't say I'm her 'homesharer'. I would just say friends and housemates. And we get funny looks for that, but what of it.

What impact has the homeshare had on you?

Alexandra: When I moved to London in September I didn't really know anybody at all. I don't have any family here so it's nice to have somebody I can come home to who's interested in my day. It's a little bit of home life when you're away from home.

Florence: I was in the RAF during the war and I was very involved in RAF Association events. So there was always somewhere to go, something to do, somebody to talk to. But when you get old you're physically not as capable as you used to be. And you desperately need company.

You cannot believe the difference that it makes just hearing somebody in the house. Hearing movement upstairs and knowing that it's not someone breaking in or something like that. The best thing about it is somebody coming in at night, round about six o'clock. That's when my family used to come home for their dinner and to me now, to hear the key in the lock, round about six o'clock, is wonderful.