Going flatting in her eighties wasn’t exactly part of her life plan, but to Edith Fyfe (pictured at right), the opportunity to share a house with four other women came at just the right time.
Moving to Sunrise House on Auckland's North Shore is the second major housing transition she’s made since her husband’s death nearly a decade ago.
At that time she was invited to live with one of her three daughters and two grandchildren.
“We had six good years together but I made myself a promise that if my daughter ever teamed up with someone I would be the one to move,” Edith says. “She did meet this very nice man and though it was never their idea for me to leave, I chose to make the move.”
She couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the Bays Community Housing Trust advertisement offering ‘an innovative lifestyle for independent older people’ aged 65 or older.
“It sounded just what I was looking for. A straight rental situation with no care as such involved. I wanted to give it a go.
“It didn’t appeal to me to live alone, and this looked like the perfect opportunity to live with a group of ladies in a brand-new house thoughtfully and well-planned for the purpose.”
Adaptability and a positive outlook helped Edith to adjust to her new living situation. She acknowledges the risk involved in setting up home with complete strangers, but decided she would look for common ground, rather than focus on differences.
“I felt that everyone wanted it to work, and that was the basis on which we should approach it. Luckily we’re all agreed on values and I’ve had to get used to other people’s ideas.
“We’ve each got our own very nice room, bathroom and deck. If it gets too noisy in the kitchen you can always just go to your room,” Edith laughs.
The Trust’s establishment of a second house next door has meant opportunities for further friendships and more shared social occasions. For Edith, who has lived on the North Shore for most of her life, going flatting has meant staying within a familiar community.
Physical fitness has always been important to her though a recent shoulder problem has put her snooker lessons and her weekly rock and roll class – “the best night of the week” – on hold. But there are still two walking groups, music – she’s a huge fan of vintage jazz, show music and opera – church activities, and Probus Club. She still drives and in summer swims regularly at Takapuna beach. Her daughters live in Auckland, so she’s often involved in family occasions and enjoys entertaining her grandchildren from time to time in the cosy guest lounge at Sunrise House.
“Get up in the morning and live your day,” is this vibrant woman’s philosophy. “Positive thinking keeps you going.“I’m very grateful for this opportunity to experience flatting at an older age, in a lovely house with all mod cons and nice people around me.”
“These five women are pioneers,” says Bays trustee and house relationship manager, Robyn Barry (pictured top at left).
“They stepped out of their comfort zones to live with people they didn't know. They’ve have had to learn to navigate personalities and compromise. It’s been a challenging time, and I'm sure they have also learned a lot about themselves.
“I’ve noticed that people have freely shared their skills and interests with others resulting in new opportunities for learning, and new activities. They go walking, swimming, dancing and socialising together, motivating, supporting and encouraging each other," Robyn says.
“Of course living with others provides the opportunity for connections to occur and for increasing social networks either with others in the house, or those associated with the ‘flatmates.There has recently been a spate of birthday parties whereby both houses have got together.
“You only have to attend one of the pot luck dinners to see the generosity and the special things they do for each other especially at birthdays and other celebrations. When someone is going through a difficult time, there is support.
“Connections between the community and those in the house have also been made, with involvement in the local community centre and Neighbourhood Watch.
“They have secure, affordable, quality rental accommodation which in itself is conducive to wellbeing. On top of that they are immersed in a complex social system that provides opportunities for connections, reciprocity and learning.”
See also The Golden Girls of Carramar
This story is part of a series exploring different living arrangements for seniors. The Going it together series is one way the Mental Health Foundation helps people prepare for a later life that has meaning, purpose and joy.