Sara Mckee is on a mission to revolutionise the lifestyle choices for older people, throwing out current institutional models and instead building homes where love matters. Here, Sarah shares with us how her longstanding friendship with older neighbour Joyce, helped inform her vision for how we all should be living throughout our lives. And this is not in age ghettos, which don't serve any age.

My oldest and wisest friend Joyce died at the age of 91 in October 2011. We'd known each other for 25 years, ever since I moved in to the flat above and she adopted me - well not literally, I think we adopted each other! I was a very busy advertising exec and she was a recently retired MD of a market research company. She had the finest brain, capable of knocking off the tough Guardian crossword every day and the most generous spirit, cooking for 10-12 of her friends on a regular basis. These were meals I was regularly invited to as she knew I was a rubbish cook!
 
I lived above Joyce for nearly seven years and when my future husband Stephen arrived, he was brought into the family fold. Joyce was the baby of her family and she'd not had any children of her own so we filled that gap. It was the usual story, we took her for granted, got preoccupied with our own lives and then made it up with lavish lunches at our favourite restaurant, The Lime Tree. When Stephen died, I needed Joyce for her sage, practical advice as we had even more in common by this stage. Her husband had died when she was in her 40s too.
 
We got together most Saturday nights from then on to have dinner and enjoy each other’s company. She was becoming increasingly less mobile with multiple health conditions, but her mind was still razor sharp so we always had very lively conversations politics, religion, family - nothing was off limits! As my culinary skills are limited, we got accustomed to trying out whatever the M&S ‘Dine in for Two’ options were each week, with Joyce sitting in the doorway of her kitchen instructing me on oven temperatures and microwave minutes!
 
When Joyce's health really went downhill, I visited her in hospital and brought her little requests. Anything from a crossword puzzle, sweets to toiletries and extra smalls! She was very sad that she'd not a child to call her own and I hope I was a good surrogate, holding her hand up to the end.
 
I still miss Joyce and think of her often, especially at the moment as her favourite flowers were daffodils and they're just about to bloom. She’s one of my inspirations for founding Evermore, an intentional community of small households where the focus is on love and connection. I created Evermore because we are all social animals and thrive in the company of others. Everyone needs to feel part of something and have friends to share experiences with every day. I want older people, especially those who are living alone, to enjoy the companionship that I had with Joyce and Stephen. That’s why the intentional community we have built into our Evermore small households is not just a campaign or cause, it’s very personal. It gets harder to make new friends as you get older. In many neighbourhoods we can be on nodding terms but rarely interact. Sometimes it takes a bit of a nudge to get a ‘community’ to develop. It’s less about physical place and much more about people. That’s what people tend to forget when they’re designing new retirement blocks. Where is the heart and soul in a building if we don’t set out to create real relationships and a community to belong to? Evermore’s communities truly provide a home with a heart. The design of the physical space coupled with our unique workforce means that every housemate will be in the heart of the action, encouraged to be part of the household and supported in maintaining their connections to their community.

The beauty of this approach is that it is adaptable to different environments. We’re already working with an NHS Trust in Greater Manchester to transform one of their intermediate care wards into a small household. The goal is to provide older people with a more peaceful and productive place in which to recover, improving their readiness to return home and the likelihood of them staying there. I have no doubt there will be an intergenerational Evermore community where relationships between people of all ages will thrive. In fact, I will actively advocate for these as I know from personal experience that good friendships aren’t based on your date of birth. Joyce would have attested to that!

"She’s one of my inspirations for founding Evermore, an intentional community of small households where the focus is on love and connection."

Sara Mckee.

Evermore, 'Live Happy'.

We’re all growing older so why don’t we start building communities where we all want to live! Somewhere that is focussed on love, fostering connection and meaningful relationships instead of hiding older people away behind closed doors in grey ghettos.

You can find out more about Evermore here. 

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