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SHONA SIBARY: I bought a bijou empty nest… then my brood flew back!

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They say it takes just ten seconds, when viewing a new house, to see yourself living there and to know if this is, indeed, the home for you.

Last October, as I stood in the hallway of a pretty period semi in Chichester, West Sussex, with its olive tree outside, I instantly had that intangible feeling that gets estate agents calculating their commission and Kirstie Allsopp handing out tissues to emotional house-hunters who have found ‘the one’.

I know exactly what it was that excited me as I wandered from the cosy living room with its open fire through to a lovely kitchen and bifold doors inviting you out to a private, verdant courtyard. It was the fact I could see myself living here. Alone.

There was a calm tranquillity that pervaded the whole interior with its muted Farrow & Ball walls, and the way the light filtered through the plantation shutters on all the windows. Most tellingly, this was a house with only two bedrooms. Meaning that my older three children would not be living here, so it would be just me and the youngest one for a few more years (my husband Keith works abroad) and then just me — alone.

After 22 years of house-hunting, clutching a checklist involving everyone else’s needs but my own, I now no longer needed to worry whether the garden was big enough for a trampoline, or the hall had enough space for buggies, scooters or hundreds of pairs of Nike trainers.

Shona Sibary has shared her hilarious parable for all parents who dream of downsizing (pictured with her children (from left to right) Dolly, Flo, Monty and Annie)

Shona Sibary has shared her hilarious parable for all parents who dream of downsizing (pictured with her children (from left to right) Dolly, Flo, Monty and Annie)

My most pressing concern as I wandered through the peaceful rooms of this empty-nest haven was whether it would just feel too quiet. Then I thought, ‘Don’t be ridiculous’ and went back to imagining myself in the courtyard with a glass of Cotes de Provence in the evening sun.

Fast forward nine months and this fantasy of an unencumbered life has been shattered — along with most of my wine glasses.

Because as fate would so ironically have it, at just the moment I thought I might finally be free from the shackles of parenting teenagers, they all stealthily moved back in. I would say back ‘home’. Except this was never intended to be their home. Just a small detail they all blithely ignore.

There are days when I feel like the old woman in the shoe who doesn’t know what to do. I’m pretty convinced I only gave birth to four children. But in this house — with its limiting 1,300 sq ft — it somehow feels as if I’ve had so many more.

Probably it’s the fact that there are boyfriends in tow; and then an entourage of friends who crowd around the kitchen island drinking, smoking and then stubbing out their cigarette butts on the lovely stone wall in the courtyard where I had envisaged a rose bush. I should have pre-empted this.

We are a family of six — although my husband Keith lives in Dubai most of the time — and we have two boisterous labradoodles, a cat, a hamster, three cars and more dynamics between us than a Dyson vacuum.

SHONA SIBARY: 'Last October, as I stood in the hallway of a pretty period semi (pictured) in Chichester, West Sussex, with its olive tree outside, I instantly had that intangible feeling'

SHONA SIBARY: ‘Last October, as I stood in the hallway of a pretty period semi (pictured) in Chichester, West Sussex, with its olive tree outside, I instantly had that intangible feeling’

Last year, after an eternity of renting, we finally managed to save the necessary 20 per cent deposit to buy a house. It had taken 12 years, during which time we had moved an unbelievable nine times from one rental contract to another, always paying somebody else’s mortgage.

At long last Keith and I were in a position to buy a place of our own, from which no landlord could evict us for spilling red wine on the carpet or scratching the paintwork.

It felt so important not to get it wrong, this forever home we’d been yearning for. Heart over head told me to go big — find somewhere that had ample space for all of us, five bedrooms, the whole shebang.

But three of my children were on the cusp of leaving home. Annie, 20, had already gone — up to Bangor where she was studying nursing; Monty, 18, and nearing the end of his A-levels, couldn’t wait to get out of West Sussex and leave for the bright lights of a London university; and Flo, 22, was keen to head to Antibes and start life as a superyacht stewardess, sailing the Caribbean in winter and the Med in summer months.

Which left me, Dolly, who’s 11, and Keith, who is hardly ever here. Very sensibly, he pointed out that it might be depressing to be wandering around a family home with no family in it — peering into empty bedrooms and feeling the bittersweet sadness of children having flown the nest. What he said was: ‘Don’t buy somewhere for them. Buy a house for you.’

Never being one to argue with the logic of my husband, that’s exactly what I did. And that’s exactly how we ended up with a £450,000 two-bedroom townhouse in the centre of town in a place with no garden and a one-year waiting list for a residents’ parking permit. Perhaps I took him too literally because when I found this house I honestly thought: ‘This will be ideal for retirement when we need to walk to the shops.’

A friend came over recently and remarked that the problem is I’ve bought a home ahead of its time. About 20 years ahead. It would have been perfect for me when I’m 70. Just not right now with three young adults who have boomeranged back and appear to have no intention of ever leaving.

OK, so the timing wasn’t brilliant. We actually ended up moving in November 2020, just at the start of the second lockdown. Annie was in her second year at university, Monty finishing his A-levels, and Flo biding her time until she could travel.

It wouldn’t be long, we all thought — the whole country thought. We could stand this for a few weeks/months. Then Annie had a miserable year at university, with stringent Welsh lockdowns and sketchy online learning. She felt so isolated and lonely, it all eventually became too much and she came back to reassess her life — something we have all done during Covid.

Monty decided not to apply to university at all this year for much the same reasons, and Flo is stuck in the UK working long hours as a carer to save money waiting for restrictions to lift.

The house I fell in love with because it was ‘bijou’ now just feels bloody small.

I have shoved Monty into an upstairs loft conversion that can’t, apparently, be called a bedroom — something about its height and emergency access.

After sleeping with me in my double bed for several months, Dolly is now in the basement, with no windows and no escape route if there’s a fire, which terrifies me, while her two older sisters are crammed into her little girl’s bedroom with its lemur wallpaper and tropical theme.

Then there’s the car situation: between us we have a Skoda, a Fiat 500 and a VW Beetle — all permanently parked on double yellow lines outside, which incenses the neighbours and anyone else wanting to squeeze past on the pavement pushing a buggy — or, worse still, in a wheelchair. We have had so many parking tickets, the enforcement officer now knocks on our front door to give us a heads-up that he’s outside.

I think the girls have been flirting with him, which is probably the most proactive thing they have done since coming home.

I can’t begrudge them the need to be here. It’s tough, and made so much tougher by the pandemic. And I would never want any of them to be rootless, without a base to come back to.

My parents waited for me to go to university before ending their marriage, which resulted in our family home being sold. When I dropped out, aged 19, my choices were a futon in the living room of my mother’s new one-bedroom flat, or the tiny spare bedroom in my father’s girlfriend’s house. I felt displaced, my life contents shoved in a bag. Perhaps that’s what I’m finding hard about our current situation. I never wanted my own children to feel that way.

They seem, however, almost sanguine about the squeeze we have found ourselves in. Then again, they are not paying rent, so they are hardly in a position to complain if they have to queue for the one bathroom, or have to watch TV in their bedroom because we can no longer all fit comfortably on the sofas. If anyone is struggling it’s me, from the practicalities of living in a house that just can’t cope with so many human beings in it. The doorknobs are all falling off thanks to the force of youthful energy.

My lovely Eiffel kitchen chairs are now all wobbly because people swing back on them, causing the bolts underneath to loosen.

Glasses are broken, plates chipped and the bathroom presents me with a constant battle against mould and mildew because of the 30-minute showers being taken around the clock.

Even our Virgin wifi, which I was promised would be super-speedy thanks to fibre-optic cable and paying for the most expensive broadband package, can’t cope with the overload of people streaming stuff.

There is nothing more annoying when I retire to the solace of my bedroom to watch something on Netflix than to have that whirring icon in the middle of my screen because someone else, somewhere else in the house, got there first.

Desperate to reclaim a tiny piece of my own square footage back, I got a builder to erect an insulated timber outbuilding in our courtyard. We barely have any space out there but this spot — previously home to pot plants and a firepit — was the only option I had, having already utilised every other inch of the house.

This outdoor ‘room’, all of 8 ft by 7 ft, is where I go when I’m in danger of blowing a gasket because no one has dealt with the washing-up piled in the sink or the dog crossing his legs by the front door.

That’s the thing when you’ve got young adults living at home. The teenage years were bad enough, but I could blackmail them to clear up after themselves with the promise of money or a lift somewhere. Now they all earn their own money and, with breathtaking entitlement, appear to think this exempts them from doing anything else.

When I challenged Flo the other day about why she never puts her dirty dishes in the dishwasher, she looked at me in shock and said: ‘But Mum, I’ve got a job.’ At which point, I retired to my shed.

Keith’s opinion — from his one- bedroom pad 4,000 miles away — is they need to leave and live with people who don’t unconditionally love them just to experience how the real world works.

He’s probably right. But there is also something rather wonderful about having this second chance to live with my children just as they are on the cusp of making their final flight from the nest.

For starters, they are hugely more fun than they were a few years ago. We can crowd around the kitchen table in the evenings and play rowdy games of cards, cook together and enjoy spontaneous sessions of karaoke without someone stomping off in a huff.

We are still a long way from the domestic bliss of The Waltons. But once everyone is in bed and we have all yelled goodnight from our respective bedrooms, I do feel incredibly lucky to have them all back. Until the morning, that is. When I go downstairs and see the state of the kitchen . . .

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Inside the tiny ‘smart home’ that will be sold in London for less than £300k

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Making homes affordable for first-time buyers is a problem that does not have one easy solution.  

With house prices having risen rapidly since the start of the pandemic, many are finding themselves priced out – especially in inner cities. 

But major housebuilder Barratt Homes thinks it has found a way for young people to climb on to the housing ladder without breaking the bank. 

The living area in Barratt's 'SMRT' home. The apartment comes in at just 37 square metres

The living area in Barratt’s ‘SMRT’ home. The apartment comes in at just 37 square metres

At its Eastman Village development in Harrow, North London,  it has built a tiny home measuring just 37 square metres or 400 sq ft. 

It may have the smallest floor plan that can be built under the Government’s minimum space standards, but Barratt describes the flat as ‘a forward-thinking luxury product that is perfectly proportioned’. 

Although the apartments might charitably be described as ‘cosy,’ the price is right, with homes starting at £290,000. This is £40,000 cheaper than the standard Barratt home in London. 

It says the tiny homes are designed to ‘help ease the squeeze experienced by London’s “generation rent”, who face ever-rising property prices and rental costs’. 

According to Halifax’s latest house price index, the average house price in London is currently £508,000; a figure which has increased by around £25,000 since the start of the pandemic. 

Barratt is calling the new design a ‘SMRT’ home, and launched off-plan sales at the development in Harrow at the weekend. 

If it is successful, it could roll out the pocket-sized apartments across the country – and prices outside of London would likely be even lower.  

This is Money went on a tour of the show apartment, and spoke to Barratt’s senior sales manager Joseph Antoniazzi about whether this is really what first-time buyers want. 

The flats have been designed by Barratt’s in-house design team, BD Living, and Blocc Interiors.  

They have aimed to make the most of what little space is available, for example by adding a built-in storage unit with shelves and cupboards around the bed, and a kitchen storage cupboard that houses the washer dryer but also has room for other bulky items such as a hoover or ironing board. 

According to Barratt, small is beautiful. Its marketing material for the apartments says: 

‘While the square footage may be smaller on paper, the illusion of space created by wide balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, and clever interior layouts, means the apartments feel open, optimised, and modern. 

‘Storage in every nook and cranny means there is no need for clunky furniture like wardrobes, sideboards, and drawers.’ 

The bedroom in the SMRT home has storage for clothes built all the way around it

The bedroom in the SMRT home has storage for clothes built all the way around it 

The kitchen cupboards have pull-out shelves to store canned food and spices, and the worktops are slimmer than average to maximise the floor space, as is the dishwasher. 

‘We have maximised every inch and made sure the space is really functional,’ said Antoniazzi. 

There is space for a small dining table in between the kitchen area and living room. Antoniazzi says they initially installed a table that folded out from the wall, but that potential buyers did not respond well to it so it was changed.  

For those working from home, there is the option to have an ‘office niche’ which consists of a desk and storage in the living room, side-by-side with the television. 

The 'office niche' in the living area provides a small space in which to work from home

The ‘office niche’ in the living area provides a small space in which to work from home

Although this may work for a single person, it could present a challenge for a couple that were both working at home.

There is also the option to have a small dressing table in the bedroom, though this would need to sit behind the door. 

In the bathroom, there is a well-sized shower cubicle, which Antoniazzi said buyers preferred to a bath.  

The outdoor terrace is small, with room for two chairs and a small table, but it backs on to a larger shared garden which gives the illusion of space. 

The apartment comes with a small terrace which backs on to a larger shared garden

The apartment comes with a small terrace which backs on to a larger shared garden

For flats on upper floors, there would instead be a balcony.

Antoniazzi said the homes were designed for first-time buyers, key workers and students, and acknowledged that they would not be suitable for a family. 

‘It is very much first-time buyer driven,’ he said, adding that lifestyle changes during the pandemic had seen families move out of locations like Harrow to the countryside, and be replaced by renters from central London – as people from across the spectrum sought to move up a level in terms of space. 

‘Post-lockdown, we saw a change in the type of buyer that was coming to view our apartments in Harrow. 

‘Whereas previously it was couples and young families, we saw the profile change towards people who had previously been renting in central London and didn’t want to waste money on rent any more.’

The storage cupboard in the kitchen provides some space for household essentials

The storage cupboard in the kitchen provides some space for household essentials

He said the idea for the micro-apartments came from the fact that many of these potential buyers had saved up during the pandemic and were keen to get on the housing ladder, but needed something more affordable than the market average. 

Antoniazzi also said the small homes could become a more popular way of getting on the housing ladder when the Government’s Help to Buy scheme ends in 2023.  

Barratt has said that, if buyers respond well to these micro-apartments, they could build more in cities across the country. 

The apartments could work well for single occupiers, who often struggle to get a large enough mortgage because of salary requirements. 

Living there as a couple could be a squeeze – but the success of the SMRT homes will reveal whether first-time buyers think that is a price worth paying to get on the ladder.

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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Family of Covid patient who left hospital urges people to follow ‘proper’ medical advice

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The family of a Covid-19 patient who last week left Letterkenny University Hospital after being encouraged by anti-vaccine campaigners has criticised those involved and encouraged people to follow “proper” medical advice.

Joe McCarron, from Dungloe, was the subject of a viral video in which a group of people insisted that he be released from the hospital, despite medical staff stating this would worsen his condition.

He left on Tuesday but returned to the hospital on Thursday in an ambulance. A spokesperson for his family on Sunday said Mr McCarron was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit but was showing signs of recovering despite Covid-19 having caused him “serious lung damage”.

They said Mr McCarron’s wife, Una, “would like to thank the staff and apologise for the actions of Joe’s so-called reckless friends earlier in the week.

“They did not help Joe’s recovery in any way. We would encourage everyone to follow proper medical advice.”

The family offered its thanks to those who had sent messages of support.

In the video, one activist said he was “rescuing” Mr McCarron and falsely claimed that treatment in the hospital would “kill” him.

One staff member told the man that leaving the hospital would risk “endangering” his life, but the activist said it would be better if he were to “die in the house than he dies here”.

Mr McCarron, who appeared to be struggling to breathe in the footage, then agreed to return home and was later shown in a video posted on social media saying that he felt much better and accusing the hospital of mistreating him.

In a statement last week, a spokeswoman for Saolta Hospital Group (SHG) which oversees Letterkenny Hospital, said it could not comment on individual cases, citing its legal and ethical obligations regarding patient confidentiality.

The group has previously said it is “gravely concerned” by a number of recent incidents in which groups of activists have attempted to spread disinformation about Covid-19 at hospitals.

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How to get the Warm Home Discount and why you should act fast

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Could YOU save £140 on energy bills with the Warm Home Discount? Some suppliers have opened applications… but you should act quickly

  • Thousands could save £140 on their energy bills through a Government scheme 
  • We reveal whether you could be eligible for the Warm Home Discount 
  • We also asked suppliers whether their applications are open yet  
  • Can you save money? Try our Compare the Market powered energy comparison 










Thousands of households are eligible to receive £140 off their energy bill this winter through the Warm Home Discount.

Low income homes and those receiving their pension could see a significant chunk taken off their bills if they sign up to the scheme in the next few weeks.

This will be particularly important as the new energy price cap level is set to kick in at the beginning of October, rising bills for millions of customers.

Customers are encouraged to apply as soon as their supplier opens applications as there is a limited number of discounts to go around. 

Thousands are eligible to receive £140 off their energy bill through the Warm Home Discount

Thousands are eligible to receive £140 off their energy bill through the Warm Home Discount

Several providers have said they will offer the discounts on a first come, first served basis meaning eligible households should act fast.  

This is Money has detailed exactly what the Warm Home Discount is, how you can apply and which energy suppliers have started taking applications for the scheme.

What is the scheme?

Eligible households could get £140 off their electricity bill for winter 2021 to 2022 under the Warm Home Discount Scheme which officially opens on 18 October 2021.

The money is not paid directly to customers but instead is a one-off discount on a home’s electricity bill between October and March.

Customers may be able to get the discount on their gas bill instead if their supplier provides them with both gas and electricity and should contact their provider to find out.

Am I eligible?

You could be eligible if you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit – known as the ‘core group’.

If you are in this category, you will receive a letter between October and December 2021 telling you how to get the discount if you qualify.

Your electricity supplier will apply the discount to your bill by 31 March 2022.

If you have not received a letter and think you are eligible, contact your energy provider.  

Customers could also be eligible if they are on a low income and meet their energy supplier’s criteria for the scheme – known as the ‘broader group’.

If in this category, you will have to apply for the discount through your provider which will decide who is eligible or not.

As the number of discounts is limited, customers are encouraged to apply as early as possible to ensure they can take advantage of the scheme.

Households can still qualify for the discount if they use a pre-pay or pay-as-you-go electricity meter.

Suppliers will tell you how you will get the discount if you’re eligible, for example a voucher you can use to top up your meter.

A number of providers have already opened their applications for the discount scheme

A number of providers have already opened their applications for the discount scheme

Which energy suppliers have opened applications?

Ovo, which also looks after SSE, said it doesn’t yet have a firm scheme opening date but it’s likely to be later this month.

It added its advice to customers at the moment would be to register their interest online and it will be sure to contact them with more information as soon as the scheme is open. 

British Gas said its scheme for 2021/22 is now open and customers can apply. 

EDF added its scheme is also now open and customers can apply on their website. 

The supplier said it encourages customers to apply as soon as possible as the scheme will be closed once it hits its maximum number of applications. 

It added it anticipates applying the rebate to eligible customers accounts by the end of February 2022. 

Octopus Energy said it has already opened its applications now. 

There is no specific deadline for applications but it will be mentioning the scheme to customers who might be able to benefit from being in the broader group. 

Bulb said customers in the broader group for the Warm Home Discount can now register their interest on its website and it will email them when applications open later this month.

It added it processes applications on a first come, first served basis so it encourages members to register their interest as soon as they can. 

Eon is now taking applications and is encouraging customers to apply as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Eon Next’s scheme will open in the coming weeks, but customers can register interest on the website now and it will contact them when it opens. 

Scottish Power added its applications had been open since 10 August.  

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