How To Live In A Big City, Save Money & Enrich Your Life

Photo: Sophie Davidson
Photo: Sophie Davidson
The housing crisis is one of the biggest issues facing young people in the UK, so much so that many of us are putting our lives on hold – living in the familial home for longer, staying in unhappy relationships, stalling our careers and delaying starting families – because we can't afford to rent, let alone buy a property. At the same time, the country is afflicted by an epidemic of loneliness among the 3.6 million older people who live on their own, often in flats and houses too large for their needs.
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There is, however, a potential solution to these twin crises, which more cash-strapped, trustworthy young people may want to consider. While some millennials are finding new ways to get on the property ladder, and embracing the more affordable lifestyles enabled by communal living, property guardianship and even au pairing in big cities like London, there is another way, which has the potential to enrich your quality of life as well as your pocket: homesharing with an elderly homeowner.
Homeshare schemes involve a (usually younger) homesharer staying with a (typically elderly) householder for minimal rent in return for spending a specified number of hours per week doing household chores such as cooking, DIY, laundry, gardening, helping out with electronics and shopping. Novus Homeshare, one of the many schemes currently operating in the UK, is a charity that has helped 300 people find a housemate so far, including a growing number of people in their 20s and 30s. Nearly 200 people in this age group have applied since January 2017.
Photo: Sophie Davidson
Photo: Sophie Davidson
The scheme requires homesharers do 10 hours of chores a week in return for a room and shared use of the householder's facilities. They also have to pay a monthly fee (£199.34) and a one-off £100 fee to be matched with a householder, who, the scheme promises, shares similar interests and hobbies. The charity says the scheme has the potential to cut the cost of living in London by up to 80% and in return, the householder gets weekly support, overnight security, guaranteed companionship and (hopefully) friendship, the importance of which cannot be overstated when you consider the detrimental impact of loneliness among the elderly.
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One pair of women for whom the arrangement has so far proven successful is 82-year-old retiree Zebunessa and 25-year-old Poppy Cholerton, an actor and after-school kids' club instructor, who have been living together since February. Refinery29 met the pair in Zebunessa's cosy flat in Streatham, south London. From the moment we were welcomed into their warm home, the pair's primary shared interest was clear: chatting and making each other laugh.
Photo: Sophie Davidson
"Do you remember the other day when you got that towel stuck on your back?" Poppy asks Granny Zeb affectionately. "That was hilarious. She was like, ‘I can't find my towel anywhere'. It was so funny," she says in hysterics.
You might expect this playfulness from a biological grandmother and granddaughter and it's something Poppy values immensely: "On the first night she told me, 'I think you can call me Granny', and I nearly died. I only have one grandparent, my grandpa, and I’ve never really been that close with him, and my other grandparents like my grandma and nanny aren’t alive anymore, so Zebunessa is this role now. It’s like having another family member."

Hey guys, this is me and my new housemate Zeb-aka my new adopted granny. She told me on our first night together I could call her granny if i'd like, so I do. She is 81 years old, from Bangladesh and her full name is Zebunessa (ornament of the woman kind)-we laughed a lot about this, she does possess some ornamental properties I must admit. She likes bananas (boarder line addicted), drinking tea out of a bowl 50% of the time, talking to me about my valentines plans with my 'boyfriend' and being warm, she dislikes sour things, Trump (don't get her started), being cold and feeling old. I have been with her for a week today and honestly from the bottom of my heart I am so glad I found her. When I read on her profile "loves talking to people and only goes out when somebody takes her" I knew she was the one I needed to scoop up! I discovered her after my sister tagged me in a Facebook post about homesharing. I looked into it and through Novus Homeshare found Zeb. If you want to make your heart explode (the good way) please consider homesharing, it means the difference between the mundane day to day for them and a bit of spice in their life. This pic is us in Prezzo, I drove her there for lunch today and had a hella lotta pizza, we had a lovely time. Please try your best to make time for your parents, grandparents or friends who are old/alone/anyone who needs some company-it's so important to have someone around to wake up to in the morning, talk to you when you are lonely, step on your toes in the kitchen and force kisses on you when you're still half asleep. She.Is.The.Cutest. 💕💕💕#novushomeshare #homeshare #respectyourelders #grannyzeb #prezzo #love

A post shared by Poppy Cholerton (@poppycholerton) on

Poppy, who is originally from the West Midlands and studied biomedical sciences at Reading University before turning to acting, first heard about homesharing when her sister tagged her in a Facebook post. "I was looking for a house and I didn’t know how I could afford to live in London with an unpredictable acting job." When she looked further into the scheme, she was attracted by the prospect of helping someone else while simultaneously enriching her own life. "It’s so sad to think about all the elderly people living on their own, so [homesharing] is really nice. I love my adopted Granny Zeb."
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Not everyone [my age] will get this type of company.

Granny Zeb
Another of Zebunessa and Poppy's biggest shared passions is food. The pair enjoy eating south Asian cuisine together, including curries made by Poppy, who is vegan, and samosas from Zebunessa's two daughters, who frequently drop off homemade Bangladeshi meals for their mother, who emigrated to the UK from the country in 1967. Until February, Zebunessa had been living alone, ever since her husband died suddenly in 1994, which was an increasing source of worry for her daughters. So they decided to sign her up for the scheme. "I didn’t like the idea at all [at first]," says Zebunessa, "but they said ‘Mum, it's for our benefit, you are doing this'."
Luckily, Poppy has won her over and Zebunessa is now glad she opened up her home to a "young, lively" millennial, particularly as she rarely sees her eight grandchildren, some of whom work abroad and are "always busy". After just a few months, the pair already seem to know what makes the other tick and are nurturing their special relationship in the most heartwarming ways.
"Poppy gave me this book," says Zebunessa, gesturing to a signed book by TV presenter and face of the BBC's Gardeners' World, Monty Don, which her surrogate granddaughter presented to her recently. "She’s so sensitive and thoughtful. She saw that I’m very fond of Monty Don and she bought this book and she got Monty Don to sign it for my birthday. I was so surprised. Not everyone [my age] will get this type of company."
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They also take pleasure in talking about "deep, philosophical topics" like religion and spirituality, which Poppy says she has learned a lot about from Zebunessa, who is Muslim. "You’re good at teaching me about the world," Poppy tells Granny Zeb, who has inspirational quotes on her fridges and often spouts aphorisms around the house. "You often say, ‘It's nice to be important, but more important to be nice', and you always say, ‘Oh what a wonderful world’ when you look at something nice or when it's sunny." Zebunessa's ability to find happiness and appreciation in the little things, even when she is housebound most days, has rubbed off on the 25-year-old.

I'd definitely recommend it to anyone because it’s so fulfilling. It’s given me a lot of happiness and compassion.

Poppy
Homesharing isn't something one should sign up to without properly considering the potential downsides, however. Poppy says that while she doesn't feel "under pressure" being responsible for someone else's security and wellbeing, she does sometimes worry about Zebunessa if she's not at home with her. "If I’m out too much in the day, I start thinking I should go back, or I'll let her know I'm going to be back late so she doesn't worry about me.
"The most difficult thing is that I’m never quite sure if I'm doing the right thing – whether it's enough or if you don't like something I'm doing," Poppy continues, addressing Zebunessa directly. "I hope I'm doing it right but I don't always know if I am."
Photo: Sophie Davidson
Photo: Sophie Davidson
Poppy's responsibilities have also affected her social life, albeit minimally. She doesn't mind that she's not allowed to invite people over to Zebunessa's flat – "It's not necessary and Granny Zeb would feel uncomfortable" – or that the programme inhibits her from staying out late as often as she might otherwise. "I worry if I stay out and then in the morning, if I stayed at a friend's house, I come back really early," she says.
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But Poppy is clearly a committed, responsible and trustworthy young person who is already loyal to Zebunessa and her needs after just a few months. These are all qualities she believes are necessary for anyone thinking about applying to share an elderly person's home. "You have to be a certain type of person, but I'd definitely recommend it to anyone because it’s so fulfilling. It’s given me a lot of happiness and compassion," she says. "It’s very good for the soul."
While homesharing isn't for everyone in need of an affordable way to live in the capital, and certainly isn't a sustainable solution to the crises in housing and social care (in the worst scenarios you could find yourself out of your depth and performing tasks you weren't expecting), it's something to consider if you're willing to take care of someone who may be able to pay you back in wisdom – and laughs – as well as a cheap room.
Photo: Sophie Davidson
Photo: Sophie Davidson
"A lot of people these days forget about older generations, but it's so important not to let them be forgotten when they’re so hilarious. You can learn so much," Poppy says, before addressing her surrogate granny. "You have so much knowledge on things that I don’t even know. The other day when I did some clearing out, I found a dried-up Rose of Jericho plant, it’s like this desert tumbleweed, that Granny Zeb bought off the internet. I was like, 'What is this?'" she laughs, before they both start spouting off about plants and their religious meanings and lose me completely.
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To find out more about Novus Homeshare visit www.novus-homeshare.org.uk
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