Our friends at the Hawkes Bay branch of New Zealand’s Age Concern agency, which operates a successful homeshare program, sent us this lovely story in September 2020. It’s a first-hand account of a new match between householder Frankie and homesharer Ian, which started just before the country’s COVID-19 lockdown was imposed. It’s great to get such thoughtful and insightful accounts from both householder and homesharer, and the story as a whole is a great demonstration of the way in which homeshare can prevent social isolation.

Frankie

I love my house and garden, where I’m surrounded by lots of happy memories. But, following the death of my husband two years ago, I was rattling around alone in our family home and considering my future options, including downsizing. I also visited various retirement villages in the area, but didn’t feel ready for any of them just yet.

Then I saw a notice about Age Concern’s “Let’s Share” program. [This is Age Concern Hawkes Bay’s homeshare program — Ed.] It sounded like a good idea—although, initially, the thought of sharing my home with a complete stranger was a little off-putting. I thought hard about it, discussed it with the family and made an appointment to meet the Let’s Share Co-Ordinator. She explained that, in exchange for a lower-than-market-level rent, the homesharer—who is usually younger—would be prepared to help with jobs around the place such as mowing the lawn, taking out the rubbish and recycling, bringing in logs for the fire, helping with the dishes, whatever. She added that they could also provide company.

Although I still lead an active social life, I’m very hard of hearing and the thought of having someone else in the house overnight was comforting. At the same time, given that I’m elderly and have developed arthritis in my hip, I’m finding it harder to cope on my own. The co-ordinator assured me that Age Concern would undertake police checks on the individual concerned before any meeting could take place, arrange a trial settling-in period, give advice on setting things up from a practical point of view and that they would monitor the situation on an on-going basis. It all sounded very reasonable.

Based on the information I was given, I decided to turn my former dining room into a third bedroom, which meant that I could still use my guest room to put up family and friends when they visit. And, given the shortage of rental accommodation nationally, it seemed like a good way of giving back to society. I decided to give it a go.

There were a couple of false starts. The first fellow to whom I was introduced didn’t seem keen on doing any gardening—this was disappointing, and there didn’t seem much point in taking it any further. The second person had already found alternative accommodation before we got round to meeting. So, it was a case of third time lucky.

In the event, COVID-19 intervened and it wasn’t possible to have a trial period as planned. Lockdown was about to be introduced, so I more or less had to make up my mind on the spot—as did Ian! But everything has turned out remarkably well. Not only was he able to do the shopping for me during lockdown, he is very easy-going and good-humoured. His rent is always paid on time and he contributes something towards the housekeeping each week. I usually cook the evening meal, which we share, but if I’m out and about, he caters for himself. He does his own washing and looks after his own room. Sometimes we watch television together but, more often than not, he does his own thing and so do I.

Of course, there were a few hiccoughs to begin with. Being a man, Ian never puts down the toilet seat! So, we came to a compromise: he uses the spare toilet and I use the bathroom. And he now shuts the door behind him! Usually he is away off to work before I get up (having first brought in the morning paper, which is a real luxury for me) but, one morning, he returned unexpectedly—just as I was coming out of the shower butt-naked. I’m not sure who got the bigger fright, me or him! I now cover up at all times, even when I think I’m alone in the house.

Naturally, there have been a few downsides, too. I have had to give up my living-alone allowance, but the rent Ian pays is below the current tax threshold, so I don’t have to declare it. Although he had said he didn’t smoke, he did vape—although, to be honest, he always went outdoors to do so. Since then, he has unfortunately reverted to smoking and, sometimes I can smell it on his clothes when he comes back inside. But again, to be fair, he tries to remedy the situation, either by removing the offending garment or by spraying himself with aftershave.

Through having the pleasure of his company and eating regular meals again, I have put on weight, but that’s my problem! I was never much of a “burger queen”, but I have learned to appreciate an occasional beef pattie, and Ian makes an awesome Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce for breakfast!

In retrospect, I might have felt very lonely during lockdown had I been entirely on my own. But, now, with the possibility of another such period coming up, I have no such worries. For me, the advantages of the Let’s Share Programme far outweigh the disadvantages and, at the end of the day, I’m able to stay in my own home for longer than might otherwise have been possible.

Ian

My experience from this arrangement has been great. It is always challenging entering someone’s home and lifestyle and hoping everything will go well, but I think for the best part it has worked out really well.
The living arrangements are spacious, clean, and modern, and I have everything I need in my everyday life. Frankie cooks most of the meals, and I feel very fortunate that she cooks for me. I do cook some meals and I’m always ready to do the dishes.

I believe I have brought some colour and laughter into Frankie’s home. Learning from each other’s life experiences has got to be the biggest positive from the arrangement. I have learnt so much about the world and her experiences during her life, and I believe I have shared some interesting facts, as well as introducing her to some treats such as Angle Bay patties, salt and pepper squid, pods and scones made with lemonade, cream and flour.

She is also never too surprised when I appear in dress-up clothes for a show I’m performing in. She is an amazing lady and I feel very privileged to be living in her home. Thanks to Tanya and the rest of the Age Concern people who have made this possible!