Homesharing during lockdown

Norman and Jorge who are Homesharing in London recorded this podcast for The Times about how their Homeshare match is helping them get through this. Thanks to Two Generations Homeshare  @twogenhomeshare for matching them and organising the interview https://www.thetimes.co.uk/podcasts/stories-of-our-times

Find out more about Homeshare at the Homeshare UK website.

Healing the Generational Divide

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration has launched Healing the Generational Divide interim report.  We gave evidence to the inquiry on how Homeshare can bring generations together, such as these housemates with a seven decade age gap.

The report highlights four areas for bridging divides:

  • Intergenerational communities: the role of local, grassroots initiatives which unite generations through shared interests such as art, music, politics and conversation, what they can do to be more effective, and how local and central government can help them thrive.
  • Intergenerational public services: how intergenerational connection can be embedded throughout care and education, on public transport, and via schemes to help older people stay active in their communities.
  • Intergenerational housing and planning: how existing housing can be used to improve intergenerational connection, and how new housing, as well as whole towns and cities, can be designed for all ages.
  • Technology and intergenerational connection: the role of technology as both a source of disconnection and loneliness among different age groups and as a potential tool for strengthening intergenerational connections.

It also suggests some interesting initiatives alongside ours such as:

  • 1p charge on self-service checkout machines:  technological changes, which reduce human contact, can fund initiatives that support greater social interactions.
  • Co-location within care and education: all nurseries, schools and care homes should be encouraged to link up.
  • A new flagship national volunteering service for older people.
  • Tax break for volunteering within public services.
  • ‘Take Your Headphones Off Day’: to promote conversation on public transport

Interesting and no doubt media-hooking ideas. But I think that Homeshare reminds us is that there is no reason for the generations to live separately. This divide is not something which has happened due to human nature, it’s been inadvertently but actively fostered by the way we have organised public services and public spaces around age-specific needs or activities. There’s also an economic element, particularly in middle-class areas where housing has become unaffordable to an entire generation. We need to reverse those divisive policies not to tackle a problem which has occurred naturally, but because our current policies are creating and maintaining the problem.

We will see fewer intergenerational divides when we are able to see people first and foremost as individuals, not as their ages.

Going global

Last week I and my colleagues were in Brussels at a gathering of international leaders to talk about how the UK could play a more leading role in supporting countries to work more closely together.

What? No, nothing to do with that!

We were at the biennial gathering of the leaders of Homeshare organisations from around the world, organised via Homeshare International and hosted this time by the inspirational 1 Toit 2 Ages (1 roof, 2 generations) Brussels-based Homeshare organisation, which supports almost as many Homeshare households in one city as the UK supports across our 23 programmes. Our hosts put on a great programme which even included a Minister and the Queen of Belgium: Homeshare is certainly getting noticed these days.

The congress included a number of social entrepreneurs who are taking the concept of intergenerational living, and of shared living more generally, into new areas. Projet Lazare sources leases in under-occupied buildings, or where a landlord is willing to donate use of a flat for a couple of years, and sets up houseshares between students and people who have either been homeless or are risk of homelessness. These supportive households enable people to return from the limbo of homelessness or precarity to feel fully human again: hence ‘Project Lazarus’. We also heard from Homeshare International President Professor Malcolm Johnson on the learning from the popular TV show following an experiment to bring nurseries into care homes, which saw friendships being struck up between people with nearly a century between their ages.

We came home inspired, determined to grow Homeshare to match the scale it has achieved across the channel and further afield, and with lots of ideas about how the homesharing concept could be used in many new ways. It was fun trying to follow presentations in other languages – and to explore the different approaches, challenges and cultural assumptions of many different nations.

We also announced two bits of exciting news. Firstly, Shared Lives Plus will be partnering with Homeshare International, which is a volunteer-run UK-based charitable company, to build its global work and with the aim of winning new resources to ensure it can reach its potential. As part of this commitment, we will be hosting the next world congress in 2021, in Liverpool. Planning has already started and we are hugely excited.

As Brexit chaos and uncertainty continues here, I don’t think anyone knows what the UK’s relationship to the EU will be by 2021, but at least in the Homeshare world, our European and global relationships will be closer than ever!

Ministering to loneliness

This is reblogged from the Department of Health blog:

Doreen, 79, offers one of her spare rooms to a younger person who needs somewhere affordable to live as part of Rochdale Possibilities’ Homeshare scheme.She was interviewed about how this tackles loneliness for older people – and often for their younger housemates too – by news agencies from as far away as Canada.

Doreen said: “I was on my own, I did not like it, and now that I have got Lucile I have someone to talk to, share meals with and someone to go out with. We go shopping, to the cinema, to a pantomime at Christmas and to the market.”

A Minister to tackle loneliness seemed strange to some: loneliness is such a private, personal problem; how could a government department help?

The Minister has committed to adopting the Jo Cox Commission’s recommendations, building on the work of the Campaign to End Loneliness, the Red Cross and others. These include a national strategy, new ways to measure loneliness and the impact of interventions upon it, and an innovation fund.

But it is true that while befriending schemes can alleviate loneliness, there can be no service to cure it: only friends can do that.

This makes loneliness a test case for the biggest challenges facing the NHS, social care and other public services. While our services have never been better at fixing what is fixable, what millions of us now need from them is not to be fixed, but to be able to live well with long term challenges which are as much social as medical.

The World Health Organisation, Marmot and others made the case for the social determinants of health to be tackled nearly 15 years ago, but as budgets stretch, our focus has arguably become more medicalised, large scale and short term, with some local systems seeking to merge or realign big health organisations and systems and hoping to see the results of ‘efficiencies’ in hospital usage and discharge statistics as soon as possible.

Certainly the NHS’s challenges have never been more urgent or bigger in scale, but whilst the large injection of cash which many are arguing for would surely alleviate many immediate problems in the system, loneliness, unhealthy lifestyles, and deep societal inequalities such as the Inverse Care Law, would remain and in fact, may be growing.

The challenge for the Minister and the rest of government then, is to find the space and time to nurture approaches like Homeshare which are small-scale today, but which may be the beginnings of the changes in relationships and ways of living which both people and the service systems they rely upon may need to become the norm in the rapidly approaching future.

Right on the Money

“My mother has been lonely for 35 years, but no longer since she has been Homesharing. The scheme in Oxford needs to be more widely publicised so that more people can benefit” Daughter of Householder. Shared Lives Plus Friends and Family Survey 2017

In Homeshare, two people who would not normally meet each other are helped to get to know each other and become housemates. Usually an older person who has a spare room and who wants a little help around the house or some companionship is matched with a younger person who is looking for somewhere affordable to live. When a good match is found, the younger person moves in and contributes to the bills but instead of paying rent, agrees to provide a little help with, for instance, household tasks which the older person is starting to find difficult. With funding from Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund, we are working with local Homeshare organisations and national partners including Age UK to bring Homeshare to many more people.

Although Homeshare does not attempt to provide personal care to its older participants, Homeshare is often thought of as a way for a ‘vulnerable’ older person to get support and as a way to tackle loneliness in later life.

In reality, it’s more complicated than that. Research by the Co-operative and the British Red Cross has identified that loneliness can affect people of all ages. For instance, the report identified that nearly a third of young new Mums experienced significant loneliness at a challenging time in their lives. North London Cares and South London Cares, which also brings younger and older people together, found that people in their early twenties were the second loneliest group, after older people. Anouck, coming to England from her native France to live for the first time, lived with Doreen and their Homeshare arranged by PossAbilities in Rochdale is featured on BBC’s Right on the Money on Wednesday 19th July. For Anouck, Homeshare with Doreen was about much more than accommodation; it was the ‘nest’ to return to each evening and a way to get involved in local activities, with Doreen who also got out and more involved in local life than she had in a life which had been very home-based as an unpaid carer to family members for many years.

doreen and anouck
Doreen and Anouck

Just as we can all experience loneliness at different times in our lives, we can all become ‘vulnerable’. The careful selection and safeguarding procedures of Homeshare organisations have been developed in recognition of the particular concerns many older people may have about house-sharing, but the model avoids applying a blanket ‘vulnerable’ label to everyone over 65, or assuming that no younger person ever feels vulnerable. This puts Homeshare organisations in an unusual place for a charity (but a very normal one for, say, a dating service or a commercial home-sharing service such as AirBnB), which is recognising that there can be risks in sharing a home, and enabling two people (and often, their families) to understand them and manage them, but not trying to take over: the participants ultimately decide whether to take part and with whom, and they develop their own version of the standard Homeshare agreement, and taking responsibility for it, with the local Homeshare organisation on hand if they run into difficulty.

This approach has a strong safety track record but also creates space for the only real cure for loneliness, which isn’t in the end a volunteer or even a befriending project (useful as those approaches can be): it’s a friend.

I love that I am helping my householder and knowing that I am having a positive impact on her happiness. I love the stories that she shares with me of her life and experiences.”.  Homesharer. Shared Lives Plus Householder and Homesharer Survey 2017

Feeling important

“Feeling important is awesome. I want everyone to feel important.” Nick, one of our Ambassadors opened our annual conference alongside the incoming President of ADASS, Margaret Willcox as co-chairs and instantly had the whole room of Shared Lives and Homeshare colleagues and participants engaged. He was talking about the experience of working with Shared Lives Plus as an Ambassador, doing work which makes a difference, as well as about the feeling of belonging and mattering that is at the heart of all good Shared Lives.

At the annual social services conference the week before, I’d enjoyed, as I do each year, catching up with a huge number of colleagues, making new links and learning about some of the most interesting initiatives around the country (not to mention being rubbish in the annual quiz). But a question from a parent of a disabled daughter stuck with me: “I’ve been looking at all these sessions and discussions and wondering where I will find my daughter in them?” The conference did include a small number of sessions led by people with lived experience including the launch of a new model of ‘coproduction’ from the group of people with lived experience at the heart of the Think Local, Act Personal partnership and an inspiring fringe event with DanceSyndrome and Community Catalysts. But in too many of the main sessions there was a yawning gap between the discussion’s topic and participants and the people whose lives were being discussed. When you put a lot of ‘important’ people together, it can be easy to lose sight of what and who is really important. As Nick told us at our event, it’s great feeling important but that feeling should be for everyone.

Our conference now attracts Shared Lives carers and people using Shared Lives, as well as one or two family members and there are sessions which are designed particularly with them in mind, but I suspect that they will at times have felt that gap in some of the discussions at our event too. Involving people who use Shared Lives and Shared Lives carers as speakers, co-chairs and part of the support team has made a huge difference and hopefully prevents us from straying too far from what we are all supposed to be about, but we know we have further to go. Now that our conference has a Homeshare strand for the first time, we are also starting to think about how people who live in Homeshare households can be a part of future events.

Coproduction, as experts like Clenton Farquharson will tell you, is a journey. If you think you’ve arrived, you’ve probably just stopped. At our event, I was immensely proud of the work that we do, of our team and the membership network of which we are a part. It’s rare I think to be at an event for 200+ which feels both nationally important and ‘like family’ as one participant put it, not to mention smoothly run by our amazing office team. But it’s important I think to keep asking ourselves: where are the people who we are talking about in these discussions? If they are in the room, leading those discussions, having helped to design them, the answer to that question is much more likely to be clear to everyone.

Little miracles

I’m grateful to Anne Watts for getting in touch to share a little about her inspiring lifestyle, built around caring for others, which she writes about in her blog (eg The Blue Dictionary and The Woman from Belgium) and books which you can find here: www.annewatts.co.uk . Ann’s way of living has elements of both Shared Lives and Homeshare. It seems extraordinary, but I wonder how many others live in this way or as Anne suggests below, would be willing to? Anne says of Shared Lives:

“Like all the best ideas, it is simple, straight forward and provides fertile ground for the little miracles of healing and kindness  that carers see every day, and  you certainly do in your work.

My back ground is in nursing (50 years of it – and going strong). Since returning home in 2000 I saw how there were great yawning gaps in the caring profession, not being adequately addressed, just tinkering around the edges over the ensuing years.

The inadequate warehousing of the vulnerable in society; those with mental health issues, the disabled and the elderly – were unacceptable and I wondered what I could do to help in an effective manner.

Beginning with an elderly relative who was frightened of going into hospital or a care home, I moved in and cared for her within the stable, secure and much loved home she had shared with her recently deceased husband. She flourished, became her old self, had a quality of life she began to enjoy again and died peacefully at home, with family around her, two years later.

Immediately I was inundated with requests from people to care for their parent etc. And have done this now for some 10 years.

I am paid in free board and lodging and minimal expenses. In return I live in, shop, clean, cook, drive, and re introduce people to life again. No more sitting alone all day, waiting for a carer to rush in at any given time to give very basic hygiene care.

With a live in carer who can see the life not being lived clearly, there are drives into the countryside, walks, picnics, visits to old haunts, nutritious food, whizzing down the aisles of the supermarket choosing long forgotten favourite foods to enjoy.

Watching someone come back to life is the greatest remuneration there is.

99 year old Eileen had shared many a holiday with her husband in Spain. Since his death (they were married 72 years!) her life had shrunk to sitting alone, waiting to die. Her family were afraid when I suggested taking her back to Spain for one last holiday-“what if she dies on the plane ” etc.”

So, I took her to Sainsbury’s, she chose olives, tapas, red wine and we had regular Spanish picnics in her garden. She always blossomed into the giggly young bride she had once been as she told me all about the times she and her beloved Frank had enjoyed in Spain.

I drove her down to Cornwall to attend her grand daughter’s wedding. She loved it and we stayed three days. She was still talking about the champagne a few days before she passed away 8 months later.

Living life right up to the moment you die – that’s what it’s all about.

Now I live in Oxfordshire, caring for an 80 year old gentleman for whom Parkinson’s Disease is tightening it’s grip. The worry and stress of fearing admissions into hospital have dropped from his face, and the certainty that he is now safe in his own home has given him a new lease on life.

So, I am living the Shared Life ethos in reverse I suppose. I do not have a home of my own, having lived my life helping others in so many ways, but now can offer my skills in this manner. I have been overwhelmed and shocked at the response and requests I field whenever it becomes known that I am ‘available’. The need is all around us – as you well know.

But they can be addressed, a step at a time.

I just wanted you to know I’m out here – and there will be many others who can do what I am doing. Keeping elderly folk out of hospital beds, and fretting about nursing home costs/standards of care and loss of independence.”

www.annewatts.co.uk