Unexpectedly (to me), Abbeyfield Houses are the reason for a conversion in my worldview, perhaps not quite on the scale of famous biblical conversions but significant nonetheless. Read on to find out why.
Until very recently (defined as early 2022), I had more or less consigned Abbeyfield Houses to the dustbin of housing history. The original lead sentence of this section was “Abbeyfield Houses are an idea whose time has gone.” I thought that was quite clever, although maybe a bit cliched, but I have subsequently learned that I was wrong. I like to find out that I have been wrong about things—it can be a refreshing experience, particularly for someone who can be rather obdurate in her opinions.
Before we get into all that, it’s important to make sure that readers understand what an Abbeyfield House actually is.
The Abbeyfield concept was launched in Britain in 1956, primarily as a way of combatting loneliness among seniors. In Canada, most Abbeyfields are houses that contain somewhere in the neighbourhood of 8-15 bedsitting rooms (meaning a room and a bathroom but no cooking facilities) plus common areas. Abbeyfields are owned and operated by non-profit societies. A cook/coordinator type of person oversees the house and does the shopping, cooking and cleaning. BC has always been the Abbeyfield capital of Canada. There are 12 in that province, plus one in Alberta, one in Manitoba, two in Saskatchewan and four in Ontario.
What I used to think is this, taken straight from the original version of this section:
The reason there aren’t more Abbeyfields and the reason some have closed is because they don’t appeal to enough consumers. It’s important to remember that Abbeyfields are aimed at independent seniors who need (or want) meals, housekeeping and opportunities for socialization. Abbeyfields do not provide care. As a result, they compete head on with a) people’s own homes and b) more conventional retirement communities. Typical retirement communities have around 100 units or more, all of which are completely self-contained (ie they include cooking facilities). Usually in a building that size you can find someone you like and avoid those you don’t. But if you are living in an Abbeyfield House eating three meals a day with maybe 10 people and you don’t like all of them, that’s a tough situation. And of course there’s no escape from the communal meals because you can’t cook in your bedroom.
Post-conversion, what I now think is that Abbeyfields can be a very workable and highly satisfactory solution for a segment of the seniors population, that segment being low and moderate income individuals who need (or want) meals, housekeeping and opportunities for socialization in a small homelike environment.
As an aside, I highly recommend reading Simon’s Night by Jon Hassler. Here’s how the New York Times Book Review described it:
Simon Shea, a retired professor of English at a small Minnesota college, has begun to forget things and has negligently set fire to his kitchen. Fearing the onset of decrepitude, he voluntarily commits himself to terminal residence at a private rest home. It’s a serious mistake…but upon Simon’s error hinges one of the most delightful novels I have read in years, a work of manifold virtues, felicitous, intelligent and very funny…full of anecdote, rich with scenes and characters of tremendous comic vitality.
The private rest home is called the Norman Home. It houses seven residents and is run by Hattie Norman with “a reckless efficiency and a voice like a hungry steer.”
I won’t ruin the book for you by telling you how it ends.