OPINION: Why we don’t want to be living All By Myself anymore

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones, who was famously fed up of living on her own. Picture: PA

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones, who was famously fed up of living on her own. Picture: PA - Credit: Archant

Columnist Christine Webber says we no longer crave our own space

For decades, there’s been an increase in the number of single households in the UK. And most experts have predicted the trend would continue.

But are they right? Could it be that the pandemic has altered our mindset – and that maybe the cult of ‘I need my own space’ is on the wane?

I know a mother and daughter who have decided to pool their resources and buy a house together. Other friends are building an extension so that grandma can be sprung from her retirement village. Two colleagues, not romantically involved, are looking for somewhere to rent together. And an older relative has decided to have a lodger.

Obviously, being in lockdown in an overcrowded family house with arguments and frustrations boiling over from time to time isn’t always a bundle of laughs, but a significant number of single people – living in tidy, quiet, living spaces – envy such families and would swap with them in a heartbeat.


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And it isn’t just older people who want to make changes. A much younger friend of mine is having such a bad time that she keeps creeping back under her duvet for a cry and a comforting nap. This woman is normally positive and sparky, but she tells me: “Isolation has really got to me. I hate it that there’s never anyone else to make me a cup of tea when I’m miserable – and this is messing with my head. There’s only so much Zooming and Skyping you can do. I need another human being, here in my home.”

So, she’s having discussions with two other women about buying a house together.

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I know many people reading this column feel equally bleak and want to rethink how they live. So, what are the options?

Multi-generational arrangements, with three – or even four – generations, living under one roof, are becoming more popular as any estate agent will tell you.

The positives are that a couple with children can move to a bigger property if a grandparent is able to bring some money to the table. The kids acquire ready-made and indulgent babysitters and homework tutors. Older relatives meanwhile gain company and care, and the reassurance of ageing within their own extended family. Expenses can be shared. Chores too. And as so many people have become more grateful for their families over the horrors of the past year, living together can seem a logical step forward.

Also, as there is now a completely different culture about working from home, the new multi-generational property need not be tied precisely to an actual office – and that means people can live in locations they once believed they’d have to save for retirement.

But if family living isn’t for you, and you are of retirement age, there are some very good Sheltered Housing schemes where you live alone but are surrounded by other similar people.

However, there are drawbacks. For a start, everyone is going to be over 50 – often a great deal older than that. The other thing is that the rooms in many complexes are often quite small. So, not only do you have to get rid of loads of your books, furniture and other possessions but having someone to stay may not be practical. Also, there are often rules about animals. And I know it would be a deal breaker for lots of people if they couldn’t own a dog.

However, what if you want to stay in your own home, but you’re lonely and also worrying about coping in the future? An organisation called HomeshareUK runs a scheme which matches an older person needing companionship and support with a younger one who wants somewhere to live, and who can offer 10 hours per week of help around the house. Find out more, here: https://homeshareuk.org/

Co-housing is another possibility. This concept began in Denmark decades ago but is now gaining popularity here. People own their own properties but there are shared facilities and often shared views within the project on eco living and the environment and so on. The bonus is that people of all ages can live alongside each other, enjoying their own space but also the shared infrastructure around them.

To come back to my friend and her aim to live with her mates, are there any drawbacks? Well, it turns out that this lovely idea, is a legal minefield. However, I hope that won’t stop her. She and the other participants will probably all need to have their own solicitors, plus another lawyer to set up a Declaration of Trust. You might think this is unnecessary, but Lily Beel of Leathes Prior tells me that it’s protection for everyone involved. She said: “The trust would simply detail the amounts each purchaser has put towards the property so that each purchaser is returned the said amount when the property is sold. Any equity left over would be divided in accordance with what was laid down in the Trust.”

So, it’s not simple. But then it’s no picnic buying or selling a house in England at the best of times!

The bottom line is that isolation isn’t good for us. And far more of us know that for sure than we did this time last year.

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