This, is all we could ever have dreamed of. A house, over a hundred years old and full of character, but running on a variety of energies including solar and solar thermal, even a small wind turbine to charge batteries. An open fire in the main living room and another in the master bedroom. Thick, stone walls, the cavities filled with insulation. The main living room large enough for a party – a proper party, with rolled back carpets and a houseful of dancing guests. The kitchen, warm and light, with a walk in pantry and cupboards all the way up to the high ceiling. An office in a nook, evening sunlight through the window.
A garden, a full acre of established planting with outhouses and sheds. Herbaceous borders and lawns. A summerhouse and a pond. An orchard, filled with apple trees creaking with their load. A veg plot, expansive and empty, waiting for seeds and wishes to be planted. All surrounded by mature woodland, secluded from the world but less than a mile from a sociable village. The flora in the garden matched by the fauna; deer, rabbits, badgers, foxes, stoats, mice, squirrels and birds of every ilk paying a visit each day. It reads like Cider with Rosie.
But this house belongs to my parents. They bought it two decades ago from the old man who had lived there some fifty years with his own family. My Dad is a designer by trade, but in reality more of an inventor -like Caractacus Potts with success. My Mum is a gardener with a mass of creative hobbies, turning her hand to glass work, crafts and dressmaking. Together, they transformed the house and garden from a quiet and tired house into a beautiful home.
And now… they asked if we would like to join them.
Discussed in our own cosy living room last year while our two young children were asleep upstairs, Mum and Dad, my husband and I weighed up the pros and cons of living altogether. The plan would be to build an extension to the property, a self-contained house that my parents would move into. Our family of four would move into the main house. There was a lot to consider.
Multigenerational living these days is on the up and is often a means to an end. Either adult children unable to get onto the housing ladder and so using the opportunity to live at home with their parents to build up a deposit – either on their own, or with a partner. Or after a breakdown of a relationship or the loss of accommodation, with adult children (sometimes with their own children in tow) returning to the family home, either temporarily or otherwise. Some families are brought together to provide care for each other in various capacities.
But we were faced with a slightly different scenario in that we were choosingto move in together.
Would it work? Howwould it work? Would my husband want to live with his in-laws? Would the novelty of having their young grandchildren available 24/7 wear thin with my parents as the children grew into teens? Would our relationships become fraught and strained wherever differences in opinion emerged? There were a lot of unanswerable questions.
But the potential positives were apparently infinite:
We could never afford to buy a house such as my parents’ these days, and while our own current house was beautiful, it was never going to tick all the boxes with our desires to be living the Good Life. Our dreams to continue to become more self-sufficient would stand in better stead in their house than ours.
We could share - and not just the usual bills, repairs, odd pints of milk - but skills and strengths as a multi-gen household. Our talents combined to create a property that could sustain us all. The house itself is quite a feat and it would take us a fair amount of guidance from my parents to get to grips with its nuances and ticks. Living together would make this much easier.
Sharing the burden of running a home (that is, by design, more economical) would give us a little more financial wiggle room in the day to day - something we as a young, working family had always missed out on. This might give us some more opportunity to pursue and enjoy our times together with the children, rather than worrying about the next bill.
We’ve always felt strongly about the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, and within the immediate community we would be creating, and the extended, literal village beyond, we could achieve that. And while my parents were keen to stress that this arrangement wasn’t a free pass for “unlimited babysitting”, there would be some reassurance that there would be someone nearby, now and in the future, for them as well as for us.
We would live separately but together. A little commune.
At the start of the year, after spending the Christmas holidays designing the plans for their own, custom built home, Mum and Dad submitted planning and building control applications. And, without much adaption, those plans were approved. Work commenced almost immediately with my Dad making use of his semi-retirement and any days off we could muster. It felt like a real team effort to be constructing something that would benefit us all in so many ways, and by summer the exterior of the extension was almost complete.
Hand in hand with some of the changes to suit the extension, the vegetable plot has already increased in size four fold. We have used the smaller original area this year, as well as the poly tunnel and green house for a crop, harvesting peas, beetroot, onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, raspberries, strawberries, squash, tomatoes, courgettes, kale and there are still parsnips in the ground awaiting that important first frost. My own passion is food – the growing and the cooking… and the eating of. The plan is to make the veg plot as productive as possible for all of us and although we have had some successes in the last few years at home, this coming season will be the biggest challenge as we work out the very best way to accomplish this. I’ve bent the ear of many a local grower and allotment holder, and hopefully putting these ideas and our previous experience into place will ensure a bounty next year.
As autumn begins to work her magic, our work now begins on the interior of the extension and the intention is for us to move in by autumn next year. And so we settle into what ought to be the last year in our current house, which we will all be sad to leave. Warmed by the memories made here and excited for the future, the plans begin to unfold and the daydreams are built in reality, a little more each day…
Jenny Parry and her young family live in the green countryside where they embrace living slowly, consciously and sustainably. Jenny spends her time cooking food and savouring books, sowing seeds and weaving stories. With (gentle!) adventures on the horizon, she can be found on Instagram @trickythistle