A few weeks ago we wrote about women who paid reduced or no rent for alternative living situations. One person who got a lot of attention was Clarissa, 23, who, at the time, lived in a Christian community house in Bristol, paying £475 (all included) a month. You guys were so interested in her living situation that we decided to find out more about how it all worked.
As told to Colette Earley.
I moved into a community house in Bristol in August 2017 and lived there for about a year. There are a number of these houses in the city, overseen by various churches, which is how I discovered community living in the first place – I was part of a small church called Love Bristol.
My house was made up of five people. We were all young but in terms of life experience, it was a real mixed bag. I was 23 when I moved in and the youngest in the house – that is, until one of the couples had a baby! That’s the beauty of communal living. You get to meet all of the different, wonderful people who come and go.
We lived among a network of other houses which were all just a few minutes away from each other. It was really common for residents to move between houses and I often used to visit this massive house in the Hotwells area of Bristol where everyone was in their early 20s. The atmosphere there was amazing. At Christmas, they would host a huge party with dancing and mulled wine, and we all congregated in the largest room to sing carols. The energy in the place was incredible.
The focus of living in a community house is to grow as an individual while building strong, long-lasting connections with others. It is like a family – we supported each other, we explored our faith, we worked as a unit through the ups and downs. People tend to think that living in a house like this would be totally regimented, but the everyday things we’d do were the same as any other normal houseshare. We’d hang out together, watch films and go to the pub. It’s just more intentional, with a big focus on personal development. The only scheduled thing was one house meeting every Monday. It was a priority, but it wasn’t the end of the world if it was missed. The point was to go over general house bits, then spend some time with each other. We’d spend time praying for each other, or reading the bible and having discussions about it.
One of the best things was how much time we spent working with the local community, trying to be a force for good for Bristol. Once a month, we’d make sandwiches to feed the homeless and a nearby house would make soup, then we’d go out into the street and distribute it. We also hosted for Nightstop, a local charity that helps to get young people off the streets. We welcomed lots of people in from different faiths and it was really cool to meet and chat with them all. Regardless of beliefs, community is something everyone can get involved with and feel a part of.
The relationships I built in the house are really special to me. Sam, a few years older than me, was like a big brother. He made me laugh and teased me, but was always there to listen when I needed it. Larissa was the mum of the house and she took me under her wing, and brought me Lemsip in bed when I was poorly. She had two kids and would often invite me to have baby cuddles in her room. She taught me about the things she was passionate about, like feminism, gardening, motherhood, faith. It took a little longer to get to know her husband, Jack. We didn’t tend to hang out one-on-one, but I appreciated his wicked sense of humour.
The house is open to visitors and having friends over is really encouraged. I got to know quite a few of my housemates' friends and vice versa. It was really lovely and very social, although some nights we’d end up with a very crowded dinner table. I could find it difficult having to make conversation over dinner if I was tired or grumpy though.
I’ve been with my boyfriend, Eden, for six months. He spent a lot of time in the house with me when I lived there, which everyone was totally fine with. We never slept in the same room – we’ve decided to wait to have sex and if you’re trying not to sleep together, why make it harder for yourself? I know it sounds old fashioned, but it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to and I believe we shouldn’t blindly accept the beliefs we’re brought up with, but I’ve made this decision and I believe it to be the best for me. On the topic of sex, obviously the Christian teaching is to wait until you’re married – but it wasn't a taboo topic for us to discuss. As a house, we always had very open and honest conversations. The community is nonjudgmental.
Emotionally, the house was really good for me. Naturally, I’m a bit of an introvert and when I first moved in I suffered from anxiety. My house leader, Claire, was really wonderful, keeping an eye on me and supporting me wherever possible. Community living also helped me to be more self-aware and have more control over my emotions. I learned that my mood can make or break a room and have a knock-on effect on those around me – and that’s been an invaluable lesson.
I made the decision to move out to my own place in Bath recently, mainly for a change, less commitment and more independence. Moving out has been a big adjustment. I’m used to it now, but for the first few weeks, I was very homesick. I have really fond memories of my year in my community house – it’s a very fun way to live and I’m so pleased I tried it. I feel like I really grew up, both in character and maturity, and most of all, I was never, ever lonely.