'I got a perfect person' - 91-year-old describes settles in with new student housemate

  • Watch Charlotte Briere-Edney's report

A 91-year-old widow from Oxford has described settling into life with a new housemate 50 years her junior as 'fun'.

Sara Banerji, who's lived in the city for 65 years, said the Oxford Brookes student is 'marvellous' and has brought laughter into her home.

The elderly lady, who still teaches writing classes, decided to join a Homeshare scheme after the death of her beloved husband.

"When a person dies, so much dies with them," she explained to ITV Meridian's Charlotte Briere-Edney.

"Suddenly I'm here without him and completely alone. And I just developed a great hatred for this house.

"I just thought if only somebody else was living in the house it wouldn't be so ghastly. And then marvellous Mary came."

"There was light and happiness in the house again. She’s such a lovely person to have around.”

And Sara isn’t the only person benefiting.

41-year-old Mary Welch is an American occupational therapy student at Oxford Brookes University.

A naturally caring person, Mary was drawn to Homeshare as her student housing wasn’t working out and she found herself priced out of most other accommodation in Oxford, which is one of the most expensive cities in the UK.

"It's so lovely!" Mary gushed. "I got folded right in from the very beginning, and that was really wonderful."

Mary often helps Sara with modern technology

The Homeshare scheme is run by Age UK Oxfordshire who work closely with Oxfordshire County Council.

Age UK Oxfordshire administer the matching process, which is understandably robust.

Applicants are DBS checked, interviewed and need to provide references. A family member or a friend of the householder is welcome to attend all initial introductions.

Marian Pocock, Manager of the Homeshare Oxfordshire service, said: “Although each Homeshare arrangement is so individual, with everyone’s circumstances and motivations for taking part being very different, it’s so heartening to see how Homeshare really can transform people’s lives”.

"The matching process is obviously key to the success of a home sharing arrangement and we take a great deal of care and a great deal of trouble to get that right," she adds.

"We quite often have people who've been bereaved, who are living on their own, who don't want to be living on their own, so they really would like somebody else around.

"For other people, it's more practical help. Maybe they have reduced mobility or they just don't have as much energy as they used to have for things. So to have somebody who would help with a bit of shopping, bit of washing up, maybe doing some of the cooking can make a really big difference to them.

“It’s very clear to me that Sara and Mary’s Homeshare arrangement has benefitted them both so much. There is such a reciprocity to it. And we see this so often."

"As an older person said to me the other day, it's so nice to see the world through a young person's eyes and you know, it goes the other way as well."

Karen Fuller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Interim Director for Adult Social Care, said: “Homeshare is an innovative example of bringing people together, offering mutual support to help people to live happy, independent lives. I hope Mary and Sara’s experiences encourage even more people to get involved in the programme.”

Becoming a ‘sharer’ in a Homeshare arrangement has proved particularly popular with workers in Oxfordshire’s health and care sectors, helping secure affordable housing options for people with a natural desire to lend a hand.

Those moving into homeshares are expected to give around ten hours of their time each week to their host . That could include helping out with tasks like shopping, cooking and dog walking, or simply be companionship.

Sara says the arrangement has also been a huge relief for her children, who were worried their mother wasn't coping well living alone.

Meanwhile Mary has secured a job with the NHS in Oxford when her Master's course finishes this summer.

She likes living with Sara so much, she plans to stay - but admits the cost is also a factor.

"I felt like I couldn't afford a Band 5 NHS position and living in Oxford, but living with Sara, having my cost of living so much lower has really made that a possibility."

Age UK Oxfordshire's Homeshare service says it is always very happy to hear from older people who would like someone to share their home - and want nothing more than to facilitate new relationships like Sara and Mary's.