The family way
Terry Hunt looks ahead to Suffolk in 20 years time . . .
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?