Moving in with a 84-year-old stranger was one of the best decisions of my life

If you’d have told me I’d be going for walks and living with an Irishwoman in her mid-80s, I’d never have believed you.

When I moved to London from Italy seven years ago at the age of 35, I dreamed of studying graphic design at college.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the financial means to do so, but home sharing with an older woman has meant I can – and it’s been so much more mutually beneficial than I could ever have imagined.

My life in Italy was perfect, but I always had the feeling that I couldn’t evolve there. After the company I was working at for 12 years went bankrupt, I decided to change my life, follow my dream to study English and design and move to the UK.

When I arrived, I didn’t speak fluent English yet – which was challenging and limited my work options – so I took a job in hospitality to pay the bills.

After six years of this, I decided that if I was going to be staying far away from my family in a different country, I had to make my time in England meaningful and pursue my goals.

I wanted to enrol in an intensive part-time course, but the expense was a barrier. Accommodation in London is costly, and I knew that if I rented privately, I would not have enough money to study. I had tried sharing a flat with other people and even renting a studio flat but this solution was very expensive. 

I decided to explore my options and discovered home sharing – after a friend suggested it as an option for me – an arrangement where an older person opens their home to someone, often a younger person, who provides a level of practical help with daily tasks such as shopping or cooking, in exchange for low-cost accommodation. 

For me, this was invaluable and a perfect fit for my situation. I saw home sharing as an opportunity to develop my English, save a significant amount of money on rent for my study-fund pot, and to experience the impact of intergenerational living. 

I basically grew up with my grandparents so I had a little bit of experience with elderly people but I had never done a homeshare before.

In March last year, Share and Care Homeshare matched me with a lovely lady called Flo, who is 84 years old and has memory problems. I’m 42 so she’s exactly double my age.

Before I met Flo, I was a bit nervous because I wasn’t sure if I’d lose my independence, but when I was told how much the rent would be – £150 per month to live in South West London – I was shocked and so happy. Not only could I save money for my course, I’d only be doing very simple tasks for her like shopping, cooking, light cleaning and spend time with her doing some activities together.

When I was introduced to Flo about a month later, straight away my connection with her, and her three daughters, was excellent. Two of her daughters live outside London and the other abroad so having someone stay with their mother gave them peace of mind.

The atmosphere was cosy and welcoming, and we all had a chat together, which made me feel very comfortable. One of Flo’s daughters, Jemima, lives in Italy, so this helped break the ice too; there was common ground.

Initially, we had a trial just to make sure we got on well – which was basically a few weeks before the first lockdown in March last year – so we were both very lucky to meet before it happened. I loved it and have lived with Flo ever since.

When Flo and I are at home, we often have a meal together, drink tea, chat, paint, look at photo albums, and more. We also read books in English or Italian because Flo wants to learn my language, which is wonderful. She also helps me with my English.

I am fortunate to have a close relationship with Flo and many fond memories that I will cherish. She is a very active and friendly person who loves spending time with her friends and family and enjoys meeting people when she is out. 

Of course, during lockdown, this took a knock, and it was challenging to find an activity to keep us both busy.

I was still working at the time, so I was worried I might give the virus to her, but I didn’t. I began to think how lucky I was to move just before this happened – we met each other in the right moment. Of course, it was challenging at the beginning – especially because I didn’t have any experience with dementia – but with Flo’s family and Share and Care Homeshare’s support, everything went well.

Our shared love of walking often finds us taking strolls in the local park. One day in June, we met a man collecting litter. It gave us the idea to do the same!

Flo’s Italy-living daughter made us pink hi-viz waistcoats, which have a witty coat of arms on the back with crossed litter picking sticks and the words ‘Operatore Ecologico’ (meaning ‘ecological operator’), which has been a conversation starter on many occasions!

Flo really enjoys litter-picking as she’s doing one of her favourite activities, walking. People in the community were impressed and would stop to chat with us, and I think parents with children would take inspiration from what we were doing. 

We would even get people who were waiting at the traffic lights in their cars shouting ‘well done!’ which made us feel so proud!

Intergenerational living has impacted me enormously and has been such a positive for both of us. There are such big rewards, not only from the financial side, but emotionally.

I have had the opportunity to be fully immersed in an English family, which doesn’t happen often when you come from abroad – the tendency is to stay with people from the same country.

There are so many phrases or words that she’s taught me and my English has improved a lot thanks to her. One in particular is ‘let’s sit soft’ when we are about to have tea sitting on the sofa.

It has also supported my mental health during the pandemic as I felt less lonely, more protected, and fully supported by Flo’s family.

I have since been able to enrol on a graphic design course, and intend to stay in a homeshare arrangement for as long as possible; the only reason I foresee potentially moving would be for job reasons.

For younger people considering pursuing this living arrangement, I would fully recommend it.  It’s a chance to help another person and to feel less lonely in a big city. Also, the older generation have lots of experience and can advise and support younger people in many ways; they can also give their time, which is precious.

Flo’s introduced me to her family, all her friends and neighbours – this was very encouraging and supportive being surrounded by such a lovely people. It’s been nice to have this while I’ve been far away from my own family – she’s also got more of a social life than me!

Hopefully I’ve helped her feel joyful and made her feel more safe having someone at home with her.

What I would say to the younger generation is that older people are like us, but with many years of experience on their shoulders; they want to feel appreciated, useful, and involved in our society.

Flo’s daughter Katie has also said how much she likes having me around, which is a huge compliment. She believes there is enormous value in her mother being able to continue to connect with the wider world through intergenerational contact, like myself, which allows her to retain as much interest, reassurance and vitality as possible.

And what does Flo say about me? She says I have become like family to her. She and I have developed a wonderful companionship, and homeshare has helped us both to flourish. 

– Read this article on The Metro.