For the last 8 years I was living in a flat that was totally unsuitable for my needs. It was in a very expensive area, my neighbour’s houses sold for over £1m. This had the added drawback of constant building works for basements or extensions, meaning on average two lots of builders blocking the road with lorries everyday, on numerous occasions. There were lovely local shops and cafes. But I felt trapped and unsafe living there.
Trapped, because I couldn’t leave the house without support. The front door was narrow, with three steps, I couldn’t get my wheelchair from my car where it lived, into the flat to charge it, without it being dismantled, something my carers had to do for me. Unsafe, because my downstairs neighbour misused alcohol – I don’t think I ever encountered him totally sober. He also had a record of violence and had on several occasions tried to con or force his way into my flat. Both of these conditions were overlaid with mental health issues. Due to his behaviour towards me he was not supposed to interact with me in any way. But the alcohol had clearly affected his memory and he harassed me on a frequent basis.
So going out of my flat or coming back was fraught and very scary. There were times when I would park outside and have to wait inside the car for over 30 minutes before he stopped blocking may way though the communal gate, until he got bored and either went home or off to the pub. I did try and involve the police, but this was low-level stuff and by the time anyone arrived he was usually nowhere to be seen. On several occasions late at night the police tried to speak to him, but he was so drunk when he answered the door that he had no recollection of anything in the last 24 hours!
I got myself on to both the Council and Housing Association waiting lists, as well as applying to various other housing associations, which specialised in housing for disabled people. On rare occasions I was actually offered a flat to view. These flats fell into two categories, they were either not adapted at all and had been totally wrongly described on the relevant websites, or they had some adaptations, but getting in or out of the building was impossible without someone being with me.
On at least five occasions, as a result of being on a flat-swapping site Homeswapper, I found a flat that would have been fine for me, but when the people from the other flats visited mine they either encountered my downstairs neighbour, which ensured they were no longer interested, or my flat was too small for them. There were so many time-wasters on these sites too!! All of which was very frustrating and disappointing.
I really was beginning to despair, I just couldn’t see how I was going to find anywhere suitable to live. Because of all my medical conditions I didn’t want to move outside London, also that is where both my children are based and my grandsons too.
Over the last few years I had received some support from a charity called Elizabeth Finn Care. As part of that I had a yearly visit from one of their staff and on last years visit the person who came to see me told me of a small housing co-op just south of the Thames that had a flat she thought would be ideal for me and for some reason, they had had difficulties letting it.
I checked up the website and contacted them. It took absolutely ages to get any response, I thought the flat would have been let already, but no, by a miracle it was still vacant. I filled in the application form and one sunny winters day my partner Eve I went to see it. The flat is on a lovely quiet street, level access, great adaptations, some of which need updating, and with direct access onto a lovely secluded shared garden. I fell in love with it straight away. But most importantly it is well designed so I can use my wheelchair to get everywhere in the flat.
The kitchen has an adjustable height hob & built-in oven at the right height for me. So I might even be able to cook again. However although the sink is also height adjustable my tumble dryer needs to be underneath it, so there is no way I can do washing up – I’m really happy to leave that to my carers! I also now have a washing machine, which came free with the flat, so no more trips to the laundrette. It makes such a difference to be able to wash & dry clothes etc when I need to without having to wait for a load to take out and then collect days later.
After my visit I had several weeks of waiting, it seemed to be ages before I was called to a meeting of the allocations panel, when I had to put my case and indicate how I would contribute to the running of the co-op. Luckily my professional background means I have lots of transferable skills which helped. My living conditions helped too especially as my old flat by now had large areas of damp which was not helping with my lung function.
When I got the phone call saying I had got the flat, I almost couldn’t believe it!! The prefect flat, in a lovely quiet development, with parking just outside and a garden I could actually use. All I had to do was organise a move. As a child I moved home every 3-5 years and lived with the rule that if it hadn’t been used in the last 3 years it went to charity. This is considerably more difficult when you’ve lived somewhere for almost 10 years. But I was lucky in that I have a wonderful friend who loves helping people declutter, so we had several afternoons work, rewarding ourselves with Chinese takeaways. Our synagogue supports an Asylum Seekers project – so it was easy to decide where my unwanted clothes would go. I had to reduce my books too, that was definitely the hardest part.
I managed to find a removal company who would pack everything for me at a reasonable price, so that was one problem taken care of. Then it was dealing with all the utilities companies, I was infuriated to discover that Thames Water told me I should have had a large discount on my flat because of my disability! Needless to say it couldn’t be backdated, but I will be trying to get it for my new flat. I was certainly pleased to be telling Eon I no longer wanted their services, I had signed up via a deal with Age UK, believed it to be the best, but recently evidence has shown I and many others have been duped, so I’ll be keeping the bills and hoping to get some money back.
For lots of reasons I would be very glad to leave that flat, but when I told my lovely upstairs neighbour I was moving and would be so sad to leave her, she told me she was moving too. I was so pleased for her as that meant she would be free of our dreadful neighbour too!
The housing co-op were very helpful in allowing me access several days before my tenancy officially started so I could get my wifi TV and phone set up before I moved in. Virgin were really great – they look after disabled customers who cannot set up their new equipment very well. I didn’t have to pay any setup costs at all which saved me a useful sum of money.
Moving day finally arrived and with the help of carers at my old flat and Nico and two lovely friends from our synagogue at the new flat everything was moved. There were the usual panics about things going missing, the worst one being my wheelchair charger. My carer swore she had put it into my car with other essentials, but when I asked Eve to get it for me she couldn’t find it – big panic! I managed to find a shop several miles away that stocked the model I needed and Eve shlepped to collect it, only to discover it was at their other branch five miles further away! Eventually she managed to get it back to me and I was mobile again. But, guess what? When Eve moved some final boxes from the car there it was underneath the last bag! Well at least I now have a spare that I can leave in the car for when I’m travelling.
One thing I did decide I needed due to my increased pain levels, as the only position I can get any relief from my trapped nerve is by laying on my side in bed, was to find a way of being able to turn the main light in my bedroom on and off without getting out of bed. A quick scan of Amazon and I discovered a wifi controlled light bulb. I found a lovely round lampshade too and eagerly awaited their arrival. Luckily one of my visitors was tall enough to put both the bulb and shade up for me & it works perfectly! Not only does it switch on and off remotely but I can change the warmth or coolness of the light. So that’s another of life’s challenges resolved.
It has taken quite a time to get everything sorted and put in place so I can find items again. For the first few weeks I really couldn’t believe how lucky I was, despite a boiler breakdown and having a new one installed, also the intercom system decided to die, so more workmen came to install a much improved model.
I’ve had lots of friends come to visit, which has been wonderful & I might even have a housewarming party!
Trying to get my care package transferred and paid for by my new borough, has been a much less simple process, the saga is on-going, and will be the subject of a separate blog post.
The final thing I had do was to get my Mezuzah put up on the door post. A mezuzah is a parchment, or klaf, on which certain verses of the Torah are inscribed (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21). Mezuzah refers as well to the case or container in which the parchment is enclosed. A mezuzah serves two functions: Every time you enter or leave, the mezuzah reminds you that you have a covenant with God; second, the mezuzah serves as a symbol to everyone else that this particular dwelling is constituted as a Jewish household.
One of the last things that was done when I left my old flat was to remove my mezuzah and put it safely in a small plastic bag inside my handbag so I knew exactly where it was when I needed to affix it to my new front door. Most Liberal Jews, such as myself, just have one Mezuzah, but more orthodox Jews place one on the lintel of all the main living and sleeping rooms.
Mezuzahs come in so many different designs and prices. I had bought this one in a traditional Judaica shop in Golders Green (one of the most Jewish areas of London), which has sadly now closed. Mine is very like the one on the image at the top of this post. I was pleased the parchment was intact and I could just transfer it without needing new parchment, as it seem to remember it costing more that the Mezuzah itself!
Jewish custom says this should be done with 30 days of moving, so it was a great delight to have my wonderful Rabbi & her lovely dog come & visit to say the prayers and help ensure that everything was done the right way. My partner shared the ceremony with me and I finally felt I had a permanent and blessed home.