‘I don’t feel lonely here at all’: social homes for older people offer built-in community

Decline in homeownership and high loneliness among older people spark demand for supported social housing

On Tuesday evening, Imelda Doyle knocks on the door of her neighbour’s apartment in New Seskin Court, Tallaght, to invite her to exercise classes the following morning. Her neighbour, she says, is a “very nice” Polish woman who has little English.

She hopes that by inviting her to the classes, run by their landlord Fold Housing, it will encourage her to immerse herself into the west Dublin community. That sense of togetherness is very important for the 79-year-old, who says it allows her to maintain her independence even as she ages.

“The exercise classes are down on the first floor. There are a group of us who invite each other to Sunday lunch or a little glass of wine. We might go for a walk in the park. I don’t feel excluded or lonely here at all,” she says.

Aware of Ireland’s ageing population and the associated difficulties that brings when it comes to housing, Fold Housing is an approved housing body that seeks to allow people to “have life in their years”.


Its first homes came into management in 2006 and it currently has 639 homes, 414 of which are specialist independent living homes for the over-55s. The body receives 100 per cent of its tenants through local authority housing lists.

Representative groups working in the housing sector have raised concerns about the potential for increased levels of homelessness among older age groups, due to a decline in home ownership and a growing reliance on the private rental sector. There are also concerns around loneliness in this cohort, with a recent study finding Ireland has the highest level of loneliness in Europe.

The aim of Fold Housing, according to chief executive Kath Cottier, is to “enable people to stay in their home and be part of the community”.

“If they can establish relationships, they can retain them. A lot of jurisdictions around the world have homes like these where communities can live together as they age. It doesn’t mean they’re not able, it doesn’t mean they’re not independent, but it means there’s a sense of community,” she says.

‘Create a community’

“It’s 55-plus, which is very young, but this type of housing works best when people move in young. They create a community, grow old here and then when younger people move in, they support other people.”

It is difficult to ascertain demand for this type of housing, Ms Cottier says, because it is run through the social housing lists. It currently has homes in the four Dublin local authorities and Co Meath, and is developing homes in Co Louth.

According to the Housing Agency’s summary of social housing assessment for 2022, published in March of this year, there are more than 6,000 eligible applicants. However, Ms Cottier says there is also “a lot of hidden demand” from people who are not registered for social housing lists.

Like other social housing tenants, residents pay differential rents, meaning it is based on their income. The average rent is €52 per week, as most tenants are receiving only a State pension. There are no no-fault evictions, with tenants only being requested to leave if they don’t pay rent or if they partake in antisocial behaviour.

In recent weeks, Fold launched its first tenant engagement strategy, which seeks to further foster a sense of togetherness among residents, such as organising walking clubs or community days.

Lynda Sheridan is another Fold tenant, living in Wellview Court, Raheny, for the past four years. She never thought she would end up needing support to find a home.

“My journey goes back to the crash, when I lost my house. I had a little community business, the crash happened and I lost all the work. It was impossible to get any more work. The banks moved in on me. They made me sell my house, it was sold for half the price it was prior to the crash,” she says.

“It was sold, there was nothing I could do, and I went to Dublin City Council and I said, ‘I’ve to be out of my house in a couple of weeks, do you have anywhere for me?’ They said no. They told me I’d have to go on a waiting list and I’d probably have to go into a hostel. I thought they must be joking. I had worked for 50 years of my life and paid my taxes and they thought I would go into a hostel?”

‘At my wits’ end’

Eventually, having secured 10 per cent of the price for which her house sold, she secured a council tenancy. Later, when that tenancy was no longer viable due to a fire, she was given a Fold tenancy.

“The first thing I said when I went to the interview [for the apartment] was ‘look, I’ve been through enough. Just tell me if I have this apartment?’ I couldn’t take any more, I was at my wits’ end,” she adds.

Being in a Fold tenancy, and having increased disposable income during the Covid pandemic, has allowed Ms Sheridan to nurture her love for gardening. Having that passion also provides her with a reason to get closer to the other residents in her building.

“We started doing the garden, and we start talking to them [other residents] then, we start talking about the garden. This woman, any time I’m sitting in the garden, she brings me down a cup of coffee. It’s so lovely,” she says.

The best part, Ms Sheridan adds, is that she feels respected and listened to. “I feel like this is my home, not my holding place.”

That is a feeling echoed by Ms Doyle, who says when she was told of her tenancy 14 years ago, she thought she had “died and gone to heaven”.

“It’s a blessing to have somewhere safe and secure, that you’re not going to be thrown out unless you turn into a raving lunatic,” she says, laughing, “I’m happy that I’m going to be there now until I fall off the twig, which is going to be another 20 years now.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times