“Even I’m amazed at what I’ve become and what I do,” admits Sarah, who previously lived at home. Now living a stone’s throw from her parents, she is reassured by a familiar location but enjoys her independence. She explains: “I like having my own space, it’s nice to do things that you want to do.” Her mother, Jackie, adds that the move has changed their relationship - for the better: “The time we spend together now is quality time, although I have to arrange to see her because she’s got such a packed diary!”
Sarah is proud of having a mortgage in her own name, describing her arrangement with Advance as “you own part of your flat, and they own the other half”. She has a 40% share of the property, and also has a support package from Surrey county council which helps with life skills like finances and housekeeping.
Sarah’s path to home ownership began after Jackie explored the choices available to her with housing rights charity Housing and Support Alliance and found out about the Advance scheme. The Cooksons opted for the family funded shared ownership option, meaning that instead of using Homes and Community Agency money, the family loans the amount to Advance to buy a property in an area of Sarah’s choice. Jackie admits they were anxious: “Over years of trying to get help for your child, you become very cynical so I had my suspicions. A mortgage seemed to be such an extraordinary concept for Sarah and the scheme seemed to be too good to be true. But it is real and it has changed all of our lives.”
Sarah felt the time was right for her to move out of the family home. She explains: “When I was at mum and dad’s, it was good but I felt it was time I needed to leave home because I didn’t want to be there at 40 or and older.” Jackie adds: “Sarah’s father and I are both only children and, although Sarah’s brother Julian cares for his sister deeply, we still wanted Sarah to be as independent and secure in the future as possible. I don’t think we were doing Sarah as much good as her living independently because you maybe over-protect when you have a vulnerable person living with you.”
The found the maisonette after Sarah’s father posted letters through doors in an area they liked, asking if anyone was considering selling. Sarah explains: “There a lady who wanted to sell for health reasons. We looked around and it was quite old-fashioned but it was the right size, bright, with a garden and in a safe, central area two minute’s walk from the town centre.”
A few months later they bought the property, began redecorating and Sarah moved in “little by little”, making it her own. She has been transformed by having her own place: “Since I’ve been in my own home, I feel I’ve achieved so much. I’ve managed to build up a social network, I’m confident enough to travel to nearby places on my own by train or bus, which was something I could not do when I first moved away.”
As well as helping weekly at the crèche, Sarah organises activities like bowling or camping for the Guildford-based 'Halow Project', whose patron and founder member is former racing driver Damon Hill. She has developed a love of the sport, apparent from the numerous Formula One pictures in her sitting room.
Sarah has also been busy attending conferences to spread the word about shared ownership. “I used to be shy about speaking to people but now I really enjoy putting my message across so other people can see what owning your own place is like for young people,” she says: “Parents can see what I’ve done and see how their young person can get more confidence.”
As for meeting David Cameron, the opportunity came in 2012 when, at the end of the fringe event at which she was speaking, she mentioned she wanted to meet him. Half an hour later, she was face to face with him, chatting for 10 minutes about shared ownership. Sarah says she was “cool as cucumber” and pleased that the Prime Minister listened to her housing story.
Jackie describes the change in her daughter as “monumental”: “If someone had told me 10 years ago that Sarah would be commanding a meeting with David Cameron, I would have thought ‘ridiculous’, but living here has changed her completely, it’s quite extraordinary. Sarah has choice and control and safety. More people should know more about shared ownership as an option – it brings people into the community and their support needs may not eventually be so high because they’re happier in their own space, and a lot can flow from that.”
As for the future, Sarah says she might consider a part-time job with children, and she wants to write the story of her life so far. And if she was lucky enough to enjoy another audience with David Cameron? Sarah says: “I would say again that everyone should have the same right and opportunity as everyone else to be treated the way that people should be treated, not discriminated against and to live where they want to live.”