Fulfilled living in later life
Thriving in community

Friday 2nd September 2022

Thriving in community

The trend for “co-housing” among older people is on the rise. Ruth Broomhall, one of our operations managers, explains how our housing schemes are places where older people can enjoy life in community in a uniquely Christian setting

A recent article in Platinum magazine highlights the rise of “co-housing”, where people – often of or approaching retirement age – choose to live in a community or in shared housing of some kind. Not a new concept perhaps, but one that is on the rise in the UK as people search for solutions to the challenges of older age (note the word ‘older' not old!).

The article cites several challenges: isolation, loneliness, cost of living, lack of local family/ support networks, health. ‘As a society in the UK’, it states, ‘we often care differently for our older generations than other areas of the world where intergenerational living is normal.’

Indeed, a significant memory from the time I spent living and working in Asia was how the elderly parent/grandparent/relation was at the centre of the family home, respected and cared for as a matter of course. Duty, love and respect for the elderly member merged together to ensure their physical, practical and emotional needs were met.

‘Other European countries look at us like we are crazy that we don’t look after our elderly people in this way,’ the writer observes. ‘Generations live together in many cultures across the world. But it’s something that Britain has got out of the habit of doing...’

Why is this? There are many valid and genuine reasons: our transitory culture, where families are spread across the UK and beyond; pressures of work and the rising cost of living, combined with the increasing role of women in the workplace, all impact time and resources available; the rise in pensionable age.

Co-housing is not a new concept to Pilgrims’ Friend Society. Independent living schemes have been at the heart of our work for many years. Indeed, this type of provision has become a developing focus for our organisation as we recognise the challenges facing this particular generation.

So what are the benefits and what makes our communities unique?

The best people to answer these questions, of course, are the occupants themselves! Living close to Dorothea Court, our independent and assisted living scheme in Bedford, I was able to spend an afternoon with a few of the ‘DC
family’. As we enjoyed a cup of tea together in the conservatory overlooking the beautiful gardens, they shared their thoughts on why they had moved to Dorothea Court, and what it means to live in this community.

Moves were inspired by a range of factors, often more than one combined: personal circumstances, reduced independence, the desire (or need) to be nearer family or to join friends, the appeal of Christian community. Benefits mentioned were extensive. Company, security, release from routine stresses, fellowship, practical help, location, activities, the wonderful staff. Alongside these, living in such a community enables independent living for longer, provides opportunities to help each other, and gives members a real sense of purpose and fulfilment.

Pauline moved to Dorothea court in 2019 from her home in Norfolk to be nearer extended family. She mentioned the warmth of the welcome she received when she moved in, and commented that, from day one, the community at Dorothea felt like “one big happy family”. Her extended family have become part of the Dorothea community too, joining in with events throughout the year and supporting not just Pauline but other members of the Dorothea family through their fellowship and friendship.

Challenges – thankfully only one mentioned! The occasional conflict/clash of personalities that sometimes occurs within community living (as it does in families); but this, they commented, was (or should be) less of a challenge in a Christian community where each is conscious of their own imperfect nature, and each able to exercise Christian grace and compassion.

But most impactful and inspiring, of all the comments and conversation, was their combined emphasis on the absolute importance of being part of an intentionally Christian community. Community where Christian values, Christian leadership, and regular Christian fellowship are at its heart.

Knowing that Christ is at the centre, that all members enjoy a shared faith and common foundation enables, as they put it, “rest in your soul”, “peace in the house”, and “oneness”. And being part of a Christian society which is also mission-minded, the community extends well beyond the boundaries of the house itself.

The“package”, they said, is “priceless”.

This article appears in the Autumn edition of The Pilgrims' Magazine.

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