Scottish Daily Mail

Is this how to beat loneliness in old age?

After these three close friends sold up to buy a magnificen­t shared house to retire in...

- by Liz Hoggard

For several years, a group of friends and I have been talking about buying a ‘halfway to hell house’ when we are in our dotage. At 70-plus, we plan to live communally with a pool, cinema, stairlift and some assistants who can help us when our limbs seize up.

We’re imagining something between a boutique hotel and a stately home. It sounds frightfull­y grand — and a teeny bit deluded. None of us earns a fortune nor is due to inherit one.

We haven’t reached retirement age yet, either: we’re aged 47 to 55, three singles, one couple. But one day, if we sell our flats and pool our resources, we should have some money to invest in a property, plus a bit left over to live on.

At our age, you might think it’s a bit early to start talking about end-of-life solutions, but with the crisis in the elderly care system — fees for residentia­l and nursing homes are now an average £33,000 a year (a rise of 9.6 per cent last year) — we need to start planning.

Not only are we living longer, but not everyone wants a traditiona­l form of retirement home. As an independen­t single, I’m not sure I could bear rules and regulation­s at the end of my life. I like the idea of a community that is totally run by residents who support each other through old age.

Interestin­gly, we’re not the only ones investigat­ing communal living, and it’s often women who are pioneering the change.

out of the 3.64 million people over 65 living alone in the UK, nearly 70 per cent are women — many women sadly outlive their husbands.

We want to retain dignity and independen­ce in old age, but not feel totally isolated.

Last year Joanna Lumley, 71, declared that she wanted to move into a commune.

‘My friends and I have spoken of a plan: rather than reach the stage where we’re old and alone, we’d prefer to live together; to buy a big house, install a housekeepe­r to look after us, and enjoy our twilight years in good company,’ she said.

Across the country, older people are experiment­ing with different ways of living together — whether building communitie­s by informing friends of houses coming up for sale near them or starting from scratch and commission­ing architects to build dedicated housing, an approach that is known as ‘co-housing’.

In London, for example, a group of women over 50 have done just that — creating their own ground-breaking co-housing scheme with a new, purposebui­lt block of flats.

The older Women’s Co-housing Group

( opened last year with 26 selfcontai­ned apartments which they helped to design (the largest of them have three bedrooms and cost about £400,000; eight are social housing).

The building has a shared common room, guest room, laundry and gardens.

Ages range from 50 to 86 and the residents choose each other.

The idea is to foster community building and active ageing.

They have film nights, yoga and communal dinners and help with shopping and cooking if someone is ill.

In a co-housing developmen­t, the freehold is owned by a firm set up by residents. Individual­s buy their leasehold homes and automatica­lly become company directors. residents look after the maintenanc­e, running finances, tending gardens and organising shared activities.

The London Countrysid­e Cohousing Group (cannockmil­l cohousingc­ is a scheme on the outskirts of Colchester, essex, open to men and women. Its members are privately buying the site, on the grounds of a historic mill.

The scheme started when a group of friends took regular walks together.

‘All of us were looking after our decrepit parents and thinking, God, there must be a better way,’ says Anne Thorne, an architect. She has designed 23 low-energy houses and flats from £210,000, for the site — the mill itself will be used as a communal house with a shared kitchen, lounge and guest bedroom.

WheN I tell people about our halfway to hell house, they’re envious, but thoughtful. Will we all want to retire at the same time? And will our properties fetch different prices? What happens if one of us wants to sell our share? or if we fall ill and can no longer live communally?

‘Don’t worry, I’ll put a pillow over your head,’ my friend says tenderly. But it’s a serious topic.

And do we want a property each (with that vital front door) around a shared courtyard? or a large rambling house and garden where there’s enough room to have privacy when we don’t feel like socialisin­g?

As a writer with only a state pension, I expect to keep working part-time beyond 70, but the others will probably be kicking back. how will we avoid getting on each other’s nerves?

I decide to take advice from an intrepid trio of women who have already taken the plunge and bought a shared house in Seaford, east Sussex.

In 2015, retired journalist Andrea hargreaves, 71, moved in with two friends — Sally Mae Joseph ,67, are tired calligraph­er turned-artist and Lyn Sands ,67, who used to run a fashion business in Brighton. each sold her house and used her savings to buy a new, bigger one.

Andrea was widowed eight years ago, Lyn and Sally Mae are divorced, and between them they have eight children and 13 grandchild­ren.

It’s an idyllic house, a fourbedroo­m Twenties pile, with modern extensions and extensive grounds. At a cost of £900,000, it was more expensive than any of the women could have afforded on her own, but by pooling resources — each contribute­d £300,000 — they got their dream home.

As for running costs, ‘you work with the person who has the least regular money and find out what they can manage right from the start,’ says Andrea, sensibly.

each woman has a beautifull­y decorated en-suite double bedroom, and there’s a guest bedroom with a double bed and bunk beds.

‘everyone comes to stay, from my 97-year-old mother to the grandchild­ren,’ says Andrea.

The kitchen is huge — the tenseater table is where they hold house meals and meetings. There are two living rooms (one a designated craft room), as well as a cosy reception room. They can all sit in a different wing of the house if they choose to.

‘We tend to meet on the sofa at 9pm to watch TV,’ says Andrea.

No one has to clean — they share the expense of a cleaner, and take turns to plan meals.

Whoever is cooking that evening pays for it from a kitty

purse to which they contribute a weekly sum. ‘We also have a booze purse,’ laughs Sally Mae.

Utilities come out of an account fed by standing orders.

Admittedly, their children were nervous about the arrangemen­t. ‘They were worried things might get messy and they would have to sort it out,’ says Andrea. ‘They think that, at 70, you’re a lot older than you actually are. But two years on, they know we’ve done exactly the right thing.’

Importantl­y, they consulted a lawyer to draw up a contract before committing to the share.

‘He was a bit like a barrister prosecutin­g in court, throwing “for instances” at us,’ says Andrea. ‘He covered all the worries the children had,’ adds Sally Mae.

‘Specifical­ly, the lawyer drew up a Declaratio­n of Trust, a legally binding document that outlines the entire arrangemen­t in detail,’ explains Andrea.

‘It’s set up so that for an initial three years if someone wants to leave or dies, then those years’ living expenses (to cover utilities and maintenanc­e) will have to be paid. The notice period drops to one year once the first three years are up.

‘This allows each of us to break the agreement should we so wish, or allows our children to claim their inheritanc­e less any living expenses due.

‘We went into this in full knowledge that we could be homeless after the notice period expires, because two of us could not afford to run the house.’

Early in their discussion­s they decided on one ‘must’ each for the house. Sally Mae needed a studio for painting, and so paid extra to convert the single garage. Lyn was adamant she wanted to live in a green way, so they grow their own veg and rear chickens.

Andrea wanted to decorate the house with her collection of local art and vintage finds.

‘After my husband died, I got rid of van-loads of hideous stuff.

‘He had the last word on furniture,’ she laughs. ‘I spent five years gathering pieces I liked.’

They had to get used to each other’s needs — ‘just like when you first get married’ — and if one heard the other two giggling in the kitchen, had to make an effort not to feel left out.

There are group outings to see comedy and films, but they don’t live in each other’s pockets. For example, Lyn is currently in Thailand for a month.

‘We have different lives alongside the one we share together,’ says Sally Mae. ‘Lots of people want to know whether we argue,’ says Andrea. ‘And, of course, we don’t always agree because we’re human, but we sort it out.’

AS For boyfriends, they’re keen on having them — they have agreed on no public canoodling in the house — but men seem rather intimidate­d by their set-up.

They have a clause in the contract where no guest can stay longer than three days without agreement from all of them, and also keep a calendar reminding them who they’re inviting for a meal so there are no clashes.

Their families get on famously. Andrea had a party for 100 people for her 70th, while the grandchild­ren all run around together on Easter Egg hunts. Sally Mae’s son held his 50th in the house, and paid for the women to go away on a weekend break, while he moved in with his friends.

Exploring the world of cohousing, I find the future looks less scary. Best of all, you get a new ‘family of friends’.

As Sally Mae puts it of their lovely arrangemen­t: ‘our lives have opened up hugely. It’s a privilege for me to be living with these two fantastic women.’

The UK Co-housing Network will put you in touch with other members in your area (co if you are looking to set one up; or send you a list of co-housing properties that are available. sallymaejo­

 ??  ?? Better together: From left, Andrea, Sally Mae and Lyn
Better together: From left, Andrea, Sally Mae and Lyn
 ??  ?? Halfway house: Liz (front left) and friends
Halfway house: Liz (front left) and friends

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