A student has come up with an ingenious way to beat the pricey London rental market – by moving in with a 95-year-old pensioner.
Alexandra Knox, 27, from Newcastle, pays £199 a month after shunning university halls to move in with RAF veteran Florence Smith when she started her Master’s degree – and the pair has become the best of friends.
Just like her fellow students, Alexandra splits the household chores with her flatmate, watches afternoon TV and even shares the occasional takeaway at their home in south-west London.
And with 68 years between them, the pair are believed to have one of the largest age gaps of any housemates in the UK.
To avoid feeling lonely, widowed Florence signed up to house sharing with the charity Homeshare ten years ago, who then paired her with Alexandra.
The housemates say they hit it off instantly and have a great time living together, despite having to explain their living situation to everyone they meet.
And they admit that despite students’ reputations, it’s often Florence who is the social butterfly coming home late.
Alexandra, a masters student at the Institute of Arts in London, said: ‘I was really nervous when we first met but we just hit it off.
‘Flo is funny and really lovely to talk to and we’ve become good friends.
‘We sit down and watch The Chase on TV together, we’ll sit down for a chat over a cup of tea, we’ll do some of the cleanings, it’s no different to living with friends as uni students.
‘And she seems to go out more than I do! If we have to worry about either of us having a late night, it’s probably her.’
Flo said: ‘Some people might feel a bit concerned about having a younger person living in their home, but Alexandra is lovely.
‘I would call her a close friend. We talk about everything, just as I would with my other friends.
‘It’s a bit strange to think I was already 67 years old when my housemate was born, but don’t think about it that much.
‘I have told my friends about it, and some of them think it’s a bit strange. But the more they find out about it, the more they think it’s a very good idea.’
Florence, a World War Two RAF veteran, has lived in the south London home for over 50 years.
She shared it with her husband Dan until he passed away just over 20 years ago.
Having retired from her job as a local authority social worker at the age of 70, and with her family living far away, she was left on her own.
Florence said: ‘Sharing your home is a marvelous idea. Loneliness is horrible. You can get bored to tears being by yourself.
‘Having someone else in the home makes a big difference. You don’t have to worry about falling over or hurting yourself.
‘And more importantly, it’s lovely to have somebody to talk to during the day. Even if we just see each other in the mornings for 15 minutes at breakfast, it’s some conversation during the day.
‘There’s always a bit of giving and take living with another person, but Alexandra and I have managed very well.
‘I like to keep active, so I still do lots of cooking, cleaning, and shopping, and I go out and meet friends for a catch-up, but it’s lovely to have someone putting their key in the door in the evening and there to help out with some of the more difficult chores.’
Alexandra was originally ‘terrified’ at the idea of moving to London and living with an older person.
But she maintains it has made her experience in the capital much better and has been a great way to beat sky-high rent costs.
Alexandra said: ‘Before I went to meet Flo I was absolutely terrified. It just didn’t seem like the normal thing to do, living with an older person.
‘But now it feels fine. People sometimes look slightly strangely at you when you first explain you live with someone who is 95 and not a relative, but it’s like being with an old family friend.
‘It gives me somewhere really homely to come back to in the evening, which is great.
‘Rent in London is also really high, but living with Flo makes being here more affordable.’
HomeShare matches an older person who wants company at home with a younger person needing somewhere to live and runs background checks before the younger person moves in.
Flo and Alexandra are two of 300 people currently involved in the scheme. According to HomeShare, they have the largest age gap between any pair.
If you know someone who might like this, please click “Share!”