In a world where loneliness and isolation seep into the lives of many, an innovative scheme is bringing together older people with those seeking accommodation. Here, Kathryn Wheeler meets a household who made the move, to find out why it works for them
On an extraordinarily cold Thursday evening, I park my car outside a home on the outskirts of Oxford. I’m here to meet with Mary, 85, and Alex, 31, two people taking part in Age UK Oxfordshire’s Homeshare – a scheme that matches older people who are looking for help or companionship in their homes, with another person who can lend a hand, and who is in need of affordable accommodation.
I’m led into the sitting room by Maria, Mary’s daughter, where I meet Marian from Age UK Oxfordshire, as well as Mary and Alex themselves. The five of us sit around a warming fire, Max the dog delighted by the company, while Alex and Mary relay yesterday evening’s outing; a concert at the school Alex’s sister works at.
Mary and Alex are one of the 50 matches between ‘Householders’ and ‘Sharers’ that Age UK Oxfordshire has supported in the past three years. To be part of the scheme, the Householder pays from £150 per month, and the Sharer pays £200, the split in bills is then worked out between the household. Each arrangement comes with a minimum nine-month commitment, but many last much longer – the longest in the county now approaching the five-year mark. It’s a forward-thinking arrangement, but the set-up of sharing a home isn’t completely new to Mary.
“I used to have a lot of students living with me, this is when my husband was alive,” Mary, a former music teacher, tells me later, when the two of us sit down together. And, she explains, she heard about Homeshare some time before she took steps to take part herself. “Someone told me about Homeshare, and then Marian came along. It was a couple of years after we’d first met that I decided to join the scheme. After my husband died, and his carer left – I didn’t mind being by myself in the house during the day, but I didn’t like it at night. That’s when I decided. I’m very glad, it’s been very reassuring.”
As you would expect, a rigorous vetting and prepping process pre-dates any match, all overseen by a team of two: Marian and her colleague Vicki. Applications, interviews, DBS checks, references, home visits, meetings – introductions between Sharers, Householders, and their families – and ongoing support, are all vital pillars for the success and safety of the scheme.
“I came to Homeshare at a point when I was really struggling with my mental health,” Alex shares. “It instantly appealed to me. I really liked the possibility of providing support to someone, but also, perhaps, being the recipient of some support as well. I felt there was a mutuality to it,” he says.
From there, Alex got in touch with Marian, and was invited to a Homeshare Oxfordshire lunchtime social. Here, he met Mary a