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Elderly People Fight Loneliness By Living Together In UK Retirement Home

by Lee Sok Lian|李淑莲

elderly-people-fight-loneliness-by-living-together-in-uk-retirement-home[left photo: One of the houses in Bromley Road]

In an article titled “BROMLEY: Elderly people fight loneliness by living together”, first published in NEWS on 14 June 2009, Charlotte McDonald writes about a unique house in London Road and its occupants, all relatively healthy retirees and senior citizens.

In the article, McDonald explains that loneliness can affect many elderly people after their partners have died and their families have long flown the nest.

The home is the brainchild of Richard Carr-Gomm who worked as a helper for old people in their homes. He was bothered by the loneliness faced by elderly people and in 1956, set up house for lonely elderly people to come and live together in two large houses in Bermondsey, joined by a neatly tended garden. The idea caught on and Carr-Gom opened others, setting up a charity called Abbeyfield.

Chairman of the Bromley group, Peter Sheldon, said: “There is no need ever to be lonely again. We are a small close, homely community, not an institution.”

To qualify for admission, residents have to be in relatively good health as they take care of themselves. Each house comes with a large living room and a communal dining area where residents have meals together. Each person lives in their own bedsit or mini flat within the spacious home, their rent contributing to cleaners and meals. They have their own bathrooms, furniture and some basic kitchen facilities such as a sink and microwave. There are few rules and regulations, unlike in an institution. Everyone is free to go out for a stroll, sit in the parks, meet family and friends, shop and attend church.

As a not-for-profit charity, Abbeyfield Bromley Society has many trustees who volunteer their time and skills for free such as an accountant, solicitor, osteopath and finance manager, keeping running costs low.

Residents pay rent which covers their bills, amounting to around £200 to £250 a week. What residents value is living in a home you can call your own, combined with the friendship of others in a quiet secluded environment conducive to living out one’s life independently.

Gladys Wilson, aged 101 --- one of the oldest residents at Bermondsey --- quipped when McDonald was interviewing her: “We are all friendly here, aren’t we? I’ve got nice neighbours. I’m very lucky. I have been very happy here.”

Her husband died 30 years ago and she decided to move to Bermondsey when she was 95 as her daughter was moving away from the area.

Another resident 90-year-old Lilian Bending said: “I was living in a house which was a bit too big. I was all by myself, my husband had died two years before. I’ve got a friend who lives in the other house, so that is how I knew about it.”

When I look around me, it is obvious to me that many elderly people do not enjoy such convivial surroundings. Those who inherit sprawling mansions worry about living in homes which are empty. Who would take care of the daily chores?

My retired and semi-retired friends, regardless of which part of the world they come from, have all spoken wistfully of an uncertain future, when their spouses, children, relatives and friends are no longer by their side. This is an even bigger headache for my Chinese friends who often leave family and community behind in search of a better life in the big cities. And when you are an only child, or choose to remain single in this cosmopolitan city, the fear of spending one’s golden years in loneliness becomes even more real.


Next post: How a Taiwanese baby boomer is actively planning for old age, surrounded by her best friends, in their own retirement home in a quaint village …