There’s a problem with housing in Britain. More than two thirds of over-65s have at least two spare bedrooms in their homes. Meanwhile, many millennials struggle to get on the property ladder, with the average house costing about eight times average earnings. Millions can’t even afford the rent to move out of their family homes.
In a new Channel 4 reality show called Lodgers for Codgers, over-60s with room to spare take on cash-strapped under-30s as lodgers. In a five-day experiment (carried out before coronavirus hit the UK) young and old try living beneath the same roof.
Here, Claudine Eccleston, 66, and Nicole Moukatas, 27, reveal what they learned about how the other half live when Nicole moved in as a lodger.
Claudine Eccleston, 66
“My husband Ted and I are not extravagant people. We are lucky enough to own a four-bedroom art deco house in Hastings and five other properties on the south coast, which we rent out. But we’ve done this by managing our money, saving for deposits, and borrowing. It gives us some security for the future, now that we are both retired from our London-based jobs in children’s social work (me) and education (him).
Day to day, we live modestly: we buy fresh fish from the harbour and cook our own meals from scratch, because that’s what we’ve always done. We might now eat lunch in a cafe once every couple of months or so, but when we were younger, there wasn’t the same cafe culture as in Britain today. Our generation is used to cooking for themselves; to re-using and repairing, not nipping out for expensive impulse purchases every other day.
We’re also environmentally conscious, so our jaws admittedly dropped when our temporary millennial lodger, Nicole, told us she bought three plastic carrier bags a day. She was equally amazed when Ted told her how much this was costing her a year.
When I first met Nicole, I was struck by how shiny and “put together” she was. It looked as if a butterfly had landed on her eyelashes. Her make-up was flawless, her clothes perfect. I took one look and thought “wow”. I also couldn’t help wondering if she’d be all fur coat and no panties.
She works in fast fashion and was used to a throwaway culture that was totally different to the way that Ted and I live. At home with her family she’d buy those expensive dinner kits where everything is sent in just the right quantity required, and all packaged heavily in plastic. Again, we were slightly horrified.
I have three adult children and have fostered some 40 young people over the years, so I like to think I know a bit about the younger generation. I wouldn’t want to stereotype them, but it’s true that many seem happy to pay £60 a month for their mobile phone contract yet moan about paying for decent food. There is also a lot of fast spending and a social media-fuelled obsession with self-image. But I also know plenty of middle-aged people who seem to have a sense of entitlement, and every generation likes to believe they are suffering more than any other.
Still, it really is hard for millennials. I bought my first house at age 43, a four-bedroom place in north London, through a shared ownership scheme. Some youngsters today may never be able to afford to buy or even find decent accommodation, unless their parents are rich enough to help them.
It’s easy to rush to judgment of those like Nicole, who get stuck in the family home but appear to fritter their money away. Yet as our week together progressed, I discovered there was more to her than meets the eye. Through hard work she’s built up her own business and is clearly skilled at what she does.
So while we taught her to throw away less and conserve more, she taught me plenty about how to use modern technology to achieve what you want to achieve. I don’t have a product to market, but I am an activist and co-run a company that helps local people find money to start their own businesses, so I gratefully drew on Nicole’s business sense when she gave me advice on the matter. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.
As I discovered during our week together, there’s so much more to young people like her than is instantly apparent. Only a fool would underestimate young women who are using themselves in a very creative way to help sell their products and earn money. No, it’s not something my generation is used to. But we shouldn’t write them off or dismiss them. We have a lot to learn from the younger generation, just as they do from ours.
Since Nicole came to stay, we’ve started to look for a lodger to share our home rent-free in return for some help with the gardening. Perhaps if we really luck out, it will end up being a millennial.”
As told to Rosa Silverman
Nicole Moukatas, 27
“I still live at home with my family: my mum, my mum’s partner, my sister and brother.
Fortunately we all get along, and we all have learnt to understand each other’s ways. We are a positive household and support each other’s journey 100 per cent.
The problem is moving out isn’t as straightforward as it used to be – something that’s often forgotten by older generations, who wonder why we don’t just grow up, get a house by a particular age and stop wasting money on other things.
I am on my own journey and I’m very happy with it, there’s no right or wrong time when you should move out, have children, get married; you should be happy within yourself, and when you feel the time is right then do so. Everyone is on their own path, and that’s OK.
I was planning on moving out this year but Covid-19 made things difficult. So next year it’s the first thing I will be doing. To achieve this goal, I make sure I am always working hard and growing within myself. I run my own online women’s clothing business Nicolexlondon.com, do modelling for a wholesale company (due to coronavirus I haven’t returned yet) and also run a speed-dating event every month. It’s taken a few years to build up my company from scratch, and I’ve worked so hard to achieve what I’ve achieved so far, but I’m not even halfway to where I want to be yet.
I’m very grateful for my mother as living at home has helped me a lot with saving a deposit for a house. It would have been far more difficult if I’d had to move out and pay to rent somewhere in London and save money at the same time. It would have taken me much longer.
It was easier to buy your first home in the past. These days it’s harder to strike out on your own, and I also think it’s important today to have more than one source of income. But that doesn’t mean people of my age shouldn’t continue to enjoy some of the finer things in life. I believe in working hard and treating myself by doing things that make me happy.
When I moved in with Claudine and Ted, they seemed shocked at how freely I spent money: £10 to £15 a day on my lunch at work, and about £150 a month on hair and beauty treatments alone. I like going out for nice meals with my friends, and prior to lockdown I would go to the gym, too. I also love nights in though, learning new things, sewing and reading.
I spend a limited time on social media promoting my business. This is a necessary part of the job, although older people seem to think my generation are obsessed with our phones. The fact is most of my customers come through Instagram. It’s integral to what I do, not some pointless, time-wasting exercise.
After a few days of getting to know each other, Claudine came to appreciate that. But at first she did seem to struggle to see past my appearance. She mentioned my lashes, my hair and nails, all of which I take great care over. I think she may have thought I was therefore somehow superficial; but when we got to know each other, she told me looks didn’t matter and affectionately called me her “shiny face”.
As for me, I didn’t have too many preconceptions of what her generation was like. She and Ted are older than my own parents (who are in their early 50s) but I got on with them like you would with a cool set of grandparents, and now they are my friends for life.
A four-decade age gap doesn’t stop you connecting with someone, and our new friendship is proof of this. Since my brief stint as their housemate last year, I’ve visited them twice already, and we’re constantly in touch online. They have taught me how to economise a bit and how to cut down on plastic.
The pandemic has set things back a little, but I’m now in the slow process of finally moving out and buying a place by myself. I’m ready to have my own space, not least in the wake of lockdown. I won’t be staying in North London, I’ll be looking further out or even somewhere abroad. I’m ready to go somewhere different, and start my next journey.”
As told to Rosa Silverman
Lodgers for Codgers starts at 8pm on Friday August 28 on Channel 4