Fri, Mar 15, 2019 - Page 9 News List

The rise and rise of multigenerational life

With young people unable to afford to leave home and elderly people at risk of isolation, families are opting to live together, benefiting from shared costs and resources

By James Tapper  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

The doorway to serenity, for Nick Bright at least, leads straight to his mother-in-law: She lives on the ground floor, while he lives upstairs with his wife and their two daughters.

Four years ago they all moved into a three-story Victorian house in Bristol, England — one of a growing number of multigenerational families in the UK living together under the same roof. They share a front door and a washing machine, but Rita Whitehead has her own kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room on the ground floor.

“We floated the idea to my mum of sharing a house,” Kathryn Whitehead says.

Rita interjects: “We spoke more with Nick, because I think it’s a big thing for Nick to live with his mother-in-law.”

And what does Nick think?

“From my perspective, it all seems to work very well. Would I recommend it? Yes, I think I would,” he says.

It is hard to tell exactly how many people agree with him, but research by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research indicates that the numbers have been rising for some time.

British Office for National Statistics estimates suggest that the number of households with three generations living together had risen from 325,000 in 2001 to 419,000 in 2013.

Other varieties of multigenerational family are more common. Some people live with their elderly parents; many more adult children are returning to the family home, if they ever left.

The Resolution Foundation says that about 20 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds live with their parents, compared with 16 percent in 1991. The total number of all multigenerational households in Britain is thought to be about 1.8 million.

Manisha Patel, a senior partner with PRP Architects and a design advocate for the mayor of London, wants to see a lot more.

“The idea was in my head for years, because I felt there was a need, but no one would take it on,” says Patel, who has designed multigenerational housing for a new neighborhood being built near the Olympic velodrome in Queen Elizabeth Park, east London.

Other projects are in the pipeline in areas including Slough, Truro and Cambridge.

“Young people can’t get on the housing ladder, so you get kids coming home, families growing who can’t afford to move. You’re getting loft conversions and extensions, and people are losing their independence. This is where the multigenerational house comes in,” Patel says.


Her design is for a three-story townhouse with a separate two-story annexe connected by a courtyard, each with their own front door — a typology in architectural jargon.

“By having these new typologies, they can encourage communities to stay together. You don’t have to move away,” Patel says.

Until those typologies become more widespread, most people will need to improvise. Kathryn and her family, who decided to try living together after the death of her father, were unimpressed by what they found in Bristol.

“Whenever we looked at places that had a granny annex, it wasn’t quite right — it was up steps or at the bottom of the garden,” Kathryn says. “It needed to be Mum’s own place as well.”

Eventually Nick, a photographer and lecturer in photography at the University of the West of England, and Kathryn, who teaches English as a second language, found the right place.

“At first, I didn’t quite know how to handle it if Mum was downstairs on her own watching TV,” Kathryn, 50, says. “Four years down the line we’ve worked out the programs we like, and if Nick wants to watch Match of the Day, I can saunter downstairs and watch something with Mum.”

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