The fam­ily way

Terry Hunt looks ahead to Suf­folk in 20 years time . . .

EADT Suffolk - - Suffolk & Proud -

LET’S play the Gen­er­a­tion Game. Not the slightly cheesy, but hugely en­joy­able, Satur­day night game show pre­sented so bril­liantly by the late, much-missed Sir Bruce Forsyth. No, I’m talk­ing about the way we’re go­ing to be liv­ing in the fu­ture, right here in Suf­folk.

I’ve been shown some fas­ci­nat­ing facts and fig­ures which pro­vide a snapshot of what liv­ing in Suf­folk could be like in 20 years time. I say ‘could be like’ be­cause all the data as­sumes that we will carry on liv­ing our lives in ex­actly the same way as at present. I won’t break con­fi­dences – the full report will be pub­lished soon – but I’ll fo­cus on one as­pect, where is every­one go­ing to live?

It’s no se­cret that we are, in gen­eral, liv­ing longer, thanks to bet­ter med­i­cal care and more peo­ple tak­ing care of them­selves. That will mean a big in­crease in Suf­folk’s pop­u­la­tion, from the cur­rent 740,000 or so, to­wards the one mil­lion mark. That’s an aw­ful lot more peo­ple, many of whom will be older folk. So, I re­turn to the awk­ward ques­tion – where is every­one go­ing to live?

Around the county we are see­ing vil­lage af­ter vil­lage protest­ing against plans to build more houses. Every­one seems to un­der­stand the need for build­ing, but few peo­ple want to see new homes built in their com­mu­nity. I have some sym­pa­thy – there are environmental as­pects to con­sider, and the ex­tra strain on lo­cal ser­vices, such as doc­tors’ surg­eries and schools. But what hap­pens if we’re not able to build the houses we need? That’s where the Gen­er­a­tion Game comes in. We will end up with a fun­da­men­tally changed so­ci­ety, where a large pro­por­tion of younger peo­ple – un­der-40s – will have to live un­der the same roof as mum and dad, sim­ply be­cause they can’t find any­where else to go. Any­where that they can af­ford, any­way.

Now, let’s con­sider that, shall we? It flies in the face of what we Bri­tish have been do­ing for gen­er­a­tions. Tra­di­tion­ally, peo­ple bring up their chil­dren, see them com­plete their ed­u­ca­tion and find work. The chil­dren then move out of the fam­ily home, ini­tially maybe into rented ac­com­mo­da­tion, then ex­pect to put a foot on the bot­tom rung of the prop­erty lad­der. But all that might have to change rad­i­cally. If the younger gen­er­a­tion has to live at home, pre­sum­ably that means with their part­ners and any chil­dren that ar­rive. Three gen­er­a­tions liv­ing in the same house. That’s be­come a bit of an alien con­cept to us in Bri­tain, but it’s com­mon­place else­where. I was speak­ing to a friend who grew up in south­ern Europe. He said: “That’s com­pletely nor­mal where I come from. Grand­par­ents help with the chil­dren, and if granny or grandpa get sick, the fam­ily takes care of them.’’

Our daugh­ter, Har­riet, and our dar­ling grand­daugh­ter, Ava, now two, lived with us for pretty much the whole sum­mer. Har­riet is a teacher in Lon­don, and a Suf­folk sum­mer made sense. Her part­ner came down for week­ends. It was chaos, but also de­light­ful, and we were sad when they went home in at the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber.

So, it can work – three gen­er­a­tions liv­ing hap­pily in the same house. Think of the ad­van­tages. Grand­par­ents help with child care, bills are re­duced be­cause of economies of scale, and if granny or grandpa does get ill, they have a sup­port sys­tem right there, thus, in many cases, avoid­ing the need for care homes. You know it makes sense – or does it? It might work in many cases, but I imag­ine some peo­ple would hold up their hands in hor­ror at the very thought.

This is where we, as a Suf­folk so­ci­ety, come in. If in­suf­fi­cient houses are built over the next two decades, then the younger gen­er­a­tion sim­ply won’t have enough places to live. Fact.

So, how­ever much we don’t like it, homes have to be built some­where. As a county com­mu­nity, it’s up to us to find an ac­cept­able, work­able solution. It won’t be easy.

‘Every­one seems to un­der­stand the need for build­ing, but few peo­ple want to see new homes built in their com­mu­nity’

Above: Multi­gen­er­a­tional fam­i­lies live to­gether in Europe, so why couldn’t we?

Terry Hunt is ed­i­tor of the East Anglian Daily Times. Suf­folk born and bred, he has lived in Ip­swich for more than 25 years.

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