Life & Culture

A stranger in your spare room? Yes!

Could a new scheme to find lodgers be the answer to a boomer's dreams? Jan Shure finds out


Mixed Race Adult Daughter Teaching Elderly Mother to Use Laptop at Home. Older People Can Learn a Laptop Computer and to Use Gadgets

As a member of the baby boomer generation — born after the Second World War but before 1960 — who is hurtling towards old age, I think I can confidently speak for many Boomers, as well as those of the preceding ‘Swing’ generation when I say that most of us are looking for new solutions to the issues of, ahem, older age.

Ideally such solutions will allow us to retain control over our lives — at least until frailty or chronic illness means we have no other option.

Not only do we dislike solutions in which we sacrifice agency but population statistics and greater life-expectancy make several decades of care or care-home living unaffordable for us, for the UK economy — and certainly for the Jewish community’s welfare organisations. The government has promised to fix social care. I’m not holding my breath.

So, Boomers and Swingers are looking for new solutions. One, of course is “sheltered” housing — private apartments within a supported environment. These are burgeoning in the private sector at every level but demand so far outstrips supply that they are available only to those most in need.

Co-housing communities offer another solution that is both economically viable and socially successful as they are run by their residents and are often inter-generational. Already existing in the UK, and in Denmark, Germany, Finland, Sweden, the US and Israel, they provide a self-contained private home plus shared community space.

But now a new online service has been designed to connect two generations in a way that could not only overcome the loneliness and minor practical challenges often faced by older people living alone, but could also help to ease the housing crisis faced by the UK’s young adults.

Called Hapipod and created by Sunderland-born Andrea Frankenthal, a documentary film-maker and single parent now based in Cricklewood, north London, it connects home-owners with a spare room with younger people who are happy to give some time — up to ten hours per week for, say, shopping, pet-sitting or tech assistance — in return for a comfortable room at a far more affordable rent than market rate.

Launched in London and Glasgow before being rolled out across the country and ultimately world-wide, Hapipod was inspired by Frankenthal’s discovery that there were some 3.7 million UK adults who are now classified as “lonely,” some 3.6 million over-65s who have spare rooms and some 3.4 million people aged 20 to 34 who cannot afford to leave home.

Frankenthal also noted that inter-generational friendships are booming, with one survey revealing “people of all ages are less concerned with age-gaps and more concerned with shared values and interests.” By connecting two generations through her innovative home-share arrangement, the platform capitalises on those “vanishing generational divides” while helping to solve a couple of tricky societal and economic problems.

A subscription-based service based on a rigorous ID-verification, the platform allows subscribers to search for compatible home-sharers, such as a person of their own faith or profession, or with similar hobbies or interests. In return for charging a below-market rent (around £250 to £350 per month), home-owners receive up to 40 hours a month of companionship or practical help from renters.

She believes this arrangement could help “active mid-lifers to stay independent for longer” while also providing a way to help key-workers, students or new graduates live affordably.

Also, adds Frankenthal, it is “an opportunity to foster interactions within the Jewish community.

“Many older people would prefer someone of the same faith living in, whilst it opens a world of accommodation for young Jews starting out on adult life away from home and wanting a kosher or Jewish base.” She suggests that it could also ease “much anxiety” among adult children if they knew their parent had a Jewish lodger.

Suzanne, in her mid 70s, lives alone in a comfortable home and her adult children live abroad. Normally “very busy socially” and used to travelling a lot, she finds an empty house “a little daunting, especially in the winter with those endless evenings.”

One of the first to register on Hapipod, Suzanne believes many people in their 70s are like her, still very active “but it is nice to have someone around to help me do a little gardening, to join me for the odd meal and to look after my home if I’m away.

“It’s got to be the right match and you’ve got to click.”

Kate (not her real name) is in her 40s. In the middle of a post-graduate degree course in London and recently divorced, she has signed up as a Hapipod house-mate.

Needing to finish her course, and finding the cost of renting in London prohibitive, she describes the arrangement as “a real lifeline.”

“I don’t mind at all spending some time with someone and helping out with shopping or tech as it means I can live comfortably where I need to be, at an affordable rent.”

Frankenthal describes herself as “a hyper-empathiser” who cries over sad news stories and has always been “obsessed with fighting loneliness.” In her younger years this made her a “consummate matchmaker” but more recently, she says “stories of parents of friends left alone through divorce or bereavement” tugged at her heart strings.

The friends’ parents were “active, dynamic 60- and 70-something people, whose families could not always be on hand to help with their tech issues or to provide company,” she says.

“They didn’t come close to needing a carer but they would have liked a live-in companion to provide some company and help with minor issues that arise.”

I suspect that is what Boomers want: to have some companionship and support without the need to give up personal autonomy — at least, not yet!


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