Don’t Mind The Gap
The generation game
Friendships across the generations are good for us – as these age-gap housemates would agree. By Jane Yettram.
Well-known advice columnist Virginia Ironside, 77, has lived in her west London home for 45 years – and she has always had lodgers. ‘A house has to be used in order for it to work,’
she says. ‘A house without people is not a home.’
One of Virginia’s current lodgers (she has two) is 31-year-old Roger Morton, who was introduced by Helpful Housemates, part of Share and Care Homeshare, a community interest company. ‘My son, Will, discovered them,’ says Virginia, who still writes for two magazines, The Oldie and The Idler. ‘I think Will just wanted somebody to be here in case I fell over. And of course you can’t ask an ordinary lodger to take you to A&E.’
Helpful Housemates was set up by Caroline Cooke and Amanda Clarke in 2020. ‘We launched it for people who would benet from earning a little rent from a spare room, but wanted the reassurance of a matched and vetted lodger who could also lend an occasional hand with practical tasks,’ explains Caroline. ‘We look for some common interests and like-mindedness between our matches, so they can develop a happy relationship.’
‘Helpful Housemates sent me outlines of people who sounded absolutely sweet,’ says Virginia. ‘After all, anybody who wants to look out for someone else is basically kind and nice.’
Initially, Roger and Virginia were put in touch by email. ‘en we talked on the phone, and after that I came to visit,’ says Roger. ‘We had a coee and a chat, and agreed we’d be a good match.’
Thee arrangement, which includes paying a below-the-market rent, has helped Roger – a postgrad student on a work placement – move to the capital, where much housing is prohibitively expensive.
I wrote down what my perfect living situation would be – aordable rent in a nice house with a garden, and living with interesting people. Helpful Housemates ticked all the boxes. If ever there was an example of the perfect matching of needs, it’s this.’
A HELPING HAND
Now, Roger takes on DIY tasks whenever needed. ‘Roger is an engineer and can do jobs around the house,’ says Virginia. ‘It’s amazing – like having a 1950s husband around!’
‘I do bits of DIY that would be too expensive to get someone in for,’ explains Roger. ‘Like if there’s some carpet apping – you’d pay a lot of money to get someone in even though it’s just a ve-minute job.’
Roger has mended garden furniture, xed a leak where the rain was getting in, mowed the lawn and more. ‘Virginia thinks that giving me work to do is a pain for me, but I love xing things. And she’s got such a good selection of tools! I know where everything is now and just fi x things as I see them.’
The impressive tools collection is testament to the fact that Virginia always used to x things herself – often high up and out of reach. ‘But my son has said I mustn’t go up ladders now!’ she says.
So far there has been no need for a trip to A&E. ‘But Roger keeps his phone on all night in case I need him,’ says Virginia. ‘He has chosen to do that, which is very touching.’
Virginia did call him once, when her blood pressure shot up to 250. ‘His girlfriend, Beth, was staying and, believe it or not, she’s an emergency doctor.’ Beth’s presence and soothing voice helped the reading fall back to normal.
Another bonus one might expect from having a younger housemate is help with tech. But, says Roger, ‘It’s tempting to assume there are big gaps between generations because we’ve gone through a technological revolution. And I’m sure this can be the case – but I wouldn’t put Virginia in that category. In fact, living with Virginia has shown me how similar our generations are in that sense. She has an iPhone and knows about tech and has very valid opinions about it.’
And Virginia’s view? ‘I’m very good with tech – as long as it obeys the rules. But we all know it doesn’t. I was typing the other day and my printer wouldn’t work. It needed a new black cartridge. I thought, “Oh God, I’ve got to get down on my knees and haul out the box of cartridges. I can never nd the right colour and then it’ll be a great eort getting up.” I tend to panic about those things and am in tears before you can say “knife”. Just as I was about to embark on this ordeal, I thought, “Hold on. Roger is working at home, so just ring him up.” And he came down and sorted it out.’
For many, sharing a home can be an antidote to isolation, although loneliness is not an issue for either Virginia or Roger.
‘I’m very social,’ confirms Virginia. ‘I like to cook and have people round. One nice thing is that if Roger pops down and I’ve got friends here, he’s tremendously personable and friendly.’
‘Virginia and I have a chat most days,’ says Roger. ‘We get on well, she’s so interesting, and as an agony aunt, she’ll always make time to talk if I’ve got any issue. There’s a lot of value in having that gap in experiences, as perspective and wisdom can be shared.’
‘I feel like a sort of mum to him,’ adds Virginia, ‘and he helps me like a son.’
Part of the reason Virginia chooses to share her home with younger people
is that many are unable to get on the property ladder because of high house prices and falling incomes. ‘I do rather disapprove of single people who live in very big houses and have rooms that aren’t used,’ she explains.
Being unable to afford his own home – unlike those from earlier generations who were already established owner- occupiers by his age – is something that, Roger admits, makes him angry. ‘But sharing a big house in this location with other people is Virginia’s way of making a difference,’ he says, ‘and I think that’s so positive because it’s pretty rare. I’m super grateful for it.’
Roger also appreciates Virginia’s forthright openness. ‘She has a strong moral compass and strong views and isn’t afraid to voice them. I admire that – along with the fact that she’s very open-minded and listens to other points of view too.’
Open-mindedness and free debate is something both value highly, especially in the era of ‘cancel culture’, with people being ostracised for not sharing certain views. ‘This thing of people being offended and shutting down the conversation is a huge problem,’ says Roger. ‘And if ever there’s
a cure for that, it’s living with Virginia. If she doesn’t agree with you, she’ll tell you, but she won’t attack you – she’ll just share a different opinion. That’s what some younger people need to understand. I can see intergenerational living as being an antidote to cancel culture.’
Of course, sharing your home does mean reining back on some things. ‘Obviously, I can’t walk around stark naked or play music very loud,’ smiles Virginia.
‘And,’ Roger says, ‘I don’t roll in drunk – but I don’t want to do that and can’t afford to anyway!’
In the past, Virginia used to share her kitchen and bathroom. Now, however, the lodgers have their own on the top floor. ‘I couldn’t bear that now,’ admits Virginia. ‘People have different standards of cleanliness – often much higher than mine, though sometimes lower.
‘Both my current lodgers, though, are frightfully tidy and clean. That’s one difference about their generation. Younger people are much fussier. If food falls on the floor, I just pick it up and eat it. Sell-by dates too – they’re quite scrupulous about those. And Roger is keen on healthy eating – five a day and going to the gym. I mean, I don’t mind the odd yogurt. But ghastly root vegetables? I can’t bear them – that’s not part of my world.’