Flo Taylor and Luciana Canu are not typical London housemates. At 84, Flo is exactly double Luciana’s age. And they grew up in different parts of the world: Flo in the UK and Luciana in Italy.
Luciana moved into Flo’s home of 50 years in Wandsworth in March 2020 — a month before lockdown hit. After Flo’s husband died, she was diagnosed with mild dementia. Her family began to look for means of supporting her, and her daughter Katie came across homesharing, an arrangement which matches housemates together, often from different generations.
“It’s like au pairs for older people,” says co-founder of Share and Care Homeshare agency Caroline Cooke. “They’re not live-in carers…It’s very much about having someone living in the home as a family friend.”
Caroline’s company operates across the UK, with the majority of homeshares in London, where high rental costs drive demand for affordable accommodation. Luciana pays £150 per month, a tenth of the average rent for a home in the capital.
In exchange for cheaper rent, homesharers are expected to provide low-level practical support to their housemates – but in many cases, the relationship is mutually beneficial.
Flo and Luciana may seem an unlikely partnership but, two and a half years and three lockdowns later, they are still going strong – and have even been joined by a third housemate, Hannah, who is 28. Here’s how it works for them.
I moved to the UK from Italy seven years ago. I had been working in hospitality and wanted to change career. I wanted to study graphic design, but the school that I wanted to attend was very expensive.
Rent in London is expensive too, and I felt a bit stuck. Hospitality is a hard job, and when you come from another country, you don’t have as many options because you don’t speak the language. I couldn’t save money either because I was paying so much for rent — £800 for a small room in a flat share.
A friend of mine suggested homesharing to save some money for the course, so I decided to give it a try. It’s turned out better than I expected.
If you move to London [from abroad], most of the time you don’t know anything about the UK. You hang out with people from your country, and you don’t really live here unless you find an English boyfriend, or something like that. You don’t have many opportunities to live in a proper English family when you come from another country, so I thought it would be a good thing to be matched with Flo.
Lockdown was unexpected. I moved in a month beforehand, and I was happy not to spend it alone in my room paying lots of money. A lot of my friends left the UK during lockdown, so I was fortunate to be there. It was good for my mental health because I wasn’t isolated. I had somebody to look after, and Flo helped me too. I felt less lonely.
Flo is very independent. [When the pandemic hit], she was still travelling and going out with friends. Seeing so many people at work, my main concern was passing on the virus. With lockdown, when we couldn’t go out, we went for walks. I tried to keep her busy at home, and we sometimes did crafts —felting and painting— or jigsaw puzzles. She helped me with my English too. Flo speaks Italian, so it was a good opportunity for her to chat and read books in Italian.
We joined a group of litter pickers – we went round with litter sticks, collecting the rubbish and cleaning the park. It was really, really enjoyable for us actually. It was easy to do, we walked and we met a lot of people. We had drinks on the pavement with the neighbours too.
We often cook dinner together. Flo likes Italian food, and we’ll have pasta or chicken or roast vegetables. At Christmas, she taught me how to make mince pies using her grandma’s recipe. Now, we have another housemate who’s good at baking, so I let her do the cakes.
I grew up with my grandparents and have always been close to them. Flo is a very particular person. She’s really friendly, and has a lot of younger friends – it’s not just me. She’s very young. My friends know Flo – they love her and think she’s really cool.
I have a good relationship with Flo’s family too. They invite me to their house, or for dinner or breakfast; I’ve spent holidays with them. I feel like a part of the family, so that’s very fortunate.
I just graduated from my graphic design course. I’ll stay with Flo for as long as I can – I’m very happy. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure, but there have been so many benefits – not just finishing school. That’s secondary in the end. We both met each other at the right time. We both needed some protection; a person to look after. This has made me feel useful and helpful for somebody, and she’s doing the same for me.
Katie Barr-Sim, Flo’s daughter
Flo moved to the house around 52 years ago. My parents did it up beautifully together – my dad was an architect and they loved it. It was like their doll’s house, but they lived in it. It was their life.
Flo is highly sociable; very friendly; widely travelled. She used to have lots of arts and cultural interests, and a wide circle of friends. Then about four years ago, my father died. Her great companion. We began to see quite a significant change in her personality and demeanour. Flo was subsequently diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, and it’s moved since then to mild dementia.
I was speaking to a friend about what we could do to help her, and they put me on to Share and Care Homeshare. At that stage —and still now— Flo’s condition isn’t advanced enough to go into the conventional care scenario, although she’s frailer than she was. We strive to keep her at home on familiar ground for as long as possible, because when your memory goes, your muscle memory remains. Your personality and life are very much tied up in a house if you’ve been there for 50 years. So we came up with this equation.
Luciana is not a carer – that’s one of the absolute rules. Homesharers are fully respected as members of the family and they can go away and have time off. I really believe that the more they get out of it, the more they give back, which has proved to be the case.
Flo is obsessed with her diary that she moves from room to room with her. I have a WhatsApp group [with Luciana and Hannah] and I can ping Luciana a message to ask her to add things to the diary. We also have a notice board to try and remind Flo what’s happening.
It’s the little things that really count, like finding batteries for the remote control and tracking down the false teeth when they’re lost. If things need to be mended in the house, like light fittings or plumbing, my mum won’t remember what the workpeople said or whether they’ve been. It’s really helpful having Luciana there to coordinate that kind of thing, and she’ll give me the feedback which my mother will have forgotten. All of that would involve a six hour round trip for me.
I live in Somerset, and I have another sister in Italy and one who lives in Oxfordshire. My sister and I visit regularly, but we have peace of mind when we’re at home that it’s ticking over and there are people there who are going to tell us if it’s not.
Having a fellow human being around is comforting and keeps the rhythm of the house on track. When my sister and I used to arrive in the house, it was alright, but it wasn’t great. When you put another pair of eyes there, the bins are emptied – somebody else is there and living alongside her. Those little touches make a house feel more alive.
You’ve got the community also. Regrettably, Flo is reaching a stage where a huge number of her friends are not here anymore. Luciana and Hannah come back with their stories; they talk about their day; their families; their clients; their trials and tribulations. All that keeps her connected with life.
Flo is really fond of both of them – she loves Luciana and there’s a tie because she’s Italian. My sister lives in Italy, and my mother loved travelling in Italy and had Italian lessons until quite recently. There’s common ground there. Luciana is immensely kind – very human and intuitive.
Luciana’s just finished her graphic design course which took a lot of her spare capacity. Very responsibly, she said she thought she needed to move out. I said: ‘No, please don’t do that. You’re familiar now, and Flo loves you. Stay, and we’ll get a second person to dovetail with you.’ That’s worked very well.
I have two children who are slightly older than Hannah, but younger than Luciana. I’m like a big sister-mother figure. It sounds clichéd, but Luciana and Hannah properly feel like part of the family. I enjoy them being there when I visit my mother. I get as much out of seeing them and chatting to them. They animate the house, which was beginning to die away. It’s given the house another lease of life; another chapter.
To find out more about homesharing, visit www.shareandcare.co.uk.