The pledge that Matthew McManus made to himself not long after he became a homeowner reflects the positive impact of having a space of his own. “Tomorrow,” he told his father almost immediately on moving into his own place 11 years ago, “I will make a friend.”
Matthew, 36, who has Asperger’s syndrome, recognises that owning the two bedroom terraced property in Petersfield, Hampshire has transformed his life (he has a 60% share in the property while Advance owns 40%). He explains: “This space has given me a lot of confidence.”
Matthew’s father Joe recalls that his son’s aspiration to socialise was unprecedented; Asperger’s syndrome makes it hard for people to communicate and form social relationships. “It was the first time he’d ever said anything like that,” adds Joe. While he still finds social interaction very difficult, Matthew gets on well with staff at the local country park where he volunteers once a week - he began volunteering shortly after moving into the house.
Before he got his own place, Matthew was at a residential college for three years and then spent four years in a shared supported living bungalow run by a Hampshire care and support charity. While Matthew was supported well, the communal living model was not entirely suitable for his needs. He explains: “It was like there were people coming and going, the living areas were shared and residents from another property the charity had across the road would visit too.”
Joe and his wife Christine, who live just a few miles away, could see their son’s frustration. “We’ve always been keen to not wrap Matthew in cotton wool,” explains Joe. “We knew that he shouldn’t move back home with us but he was finding it hard to interact with the others, he was very self-conscious around people, found it hard to relax and didn’t like the change when people moved in or out.”
Matthew’s social worker at the time suggested the family look into shared ownership. Joe says: “Matthew actually got to choose the house, he went house hunting and it was really exciting for him to be able to say ‘yes I like this’ or ‘I don’t like that.’”
Matthew recalls: “I was looking forward to moving out and living on my own. I felt alright about putting my home together, like it was a clean slate.” Matthew chose what colour to have the walls and carpet and relished the fact he could finally keep a pet – because his previous home was a shared house, he could only keep a small animal, like a hamster, in a cage in his bedroom. Now he has the freedom to keep guinea pigs in a specially built pen in the main living area.
When Matthew lived in the shared house, he relied on ready meals and avoided cooking because he did not like sharing the kitchen with his fellow residents. Since living in his own place, however, he has learned to cook and describes spaghetti bolognese and shepherd’s pie as two of his signature dishes. Matthew adds that favourite part of the house is the lounge, where he relaxes by watching a movie, but he also likes the kitchen, garden and decking.
Joe adds that without shared ownership, Matthew would be living back at home – “a real backwards step” – or in more expensive rented accommodation. “Achieving independence has changed Matthew’s life,” says Joe (Matthew does not have any social care support from his local authority). “He is happier than he has ever been and has made astonishing progress.” As Joe says, shared ownership gives Matthew all the benefit of owning a home without any of the maintenance responsibility; work on the house is largely dealt with by Advance under the shared ownership agreement.
While the practical benefits of shared ownership are obvious, there are other less tangible but equally important outcomes, such as the fact that Matthew’s living situation sparked a newfound confidence to make friends. “Shared ownership has put Matthew on an equal footing with other people,” says his father. “He’s said to me many times, ‘I’m a homeowner’. He has pride in that, he is proud of where and how he lives.”
Matthew adds that his advice to anyone else thinking of shared ownership is “go for it”. He explains: “It’s worth giving it a go ... you may feel nervous to start with, but you soon settle in. It’s been successful for me. I don’t want to move again, I want to stay in the same place.”