FOR Paul Cann it is the solution that Oxford has been simply waiting to happen.

After all the agonising over an ever-expanding city, building on the Green Belt and creating new towns, just imagine being able to put a dent in Oxford’s shortage of affordable homes, without having to lay a single brick.

And if that were not remarkable enough, how about addressing the problem of loneliness for hundreds of elderly people at the same time?

The answer to so many of the city’s problems for Mr Cann, chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire, is the newly-launched Homeshare programme, which from September will begin matching young people needing a place to live with older people with a spare room who could do with a bit of a helping hand.

It is not a new idea. But for the first time outside London a scheme is to be launched with real money being thrown at it, with the whole programme being overseen by a well-established organisation respected by local pensioners.

Age UK Oxfordshire is to receive £172,000 over three years from Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund to spearhead a pilot scheme.

As a city facing the parallel issues of a lack of affordable housing for young people and a growing number of older people feeling isolated and in need of practical support and companionship, it is easy to see why our city has been chosen.

“Well, if it can work anywhere it can work in Oxford,” declares Mr Cann. Such is his confidence that he expects to see up to 1,000 young people being housed under the scheme over the next five to ten years.

These will include students, with the scheme expected to be particularly appealing to postgraduates. But with so many people in Oxford employed in health, education and poorly paid public sector jobs, it will be open also to nurses, teachers, researchers, council staff and various key workers.

In addition to its massive student population and shortage of affordable homes, Mr Cann also points to the significant numbers of large homes which are said to be “under occupied.”

The real beauty of the scheme is its simplicity. In exchange for being accommodated in a spare room the younger party would be expected to provide abut 10 hours of companionship and light domestic help which would not, however, include personal care.

Both parties would contribute an affordable monthly fee to cover the costs of the scheme. In Oxford the homesharer will be expected to pay £200 a month – in a city where the average monthly rental figure is about £1,900. The charge for the home owner is expected to be no more than £100.

Mr Cann said: “We are currently developing three basic models of placements: academic year, academic term and long-term arrangements. We are focusing on determining the optimum length of time and conditions for home sharing relationships to thrive.”

Mr Cann points to the fact that the scheme has been successfully run in countries such as France, Spain, Australia and the United States. While it has been introduced in some local communities, in England it has remained relatively niche.

Novus Homeshare operated a scheme in Greater London and currently manages about 50 homesharing relationships. Under the new programme it will receive £183,200 to expand the scheme across London.

The project is timely with Oxford City Council having launched a consultation to review future housing needs for residents aged 55 and older. Results from the survey, which will run until August 31, along with other data, will be used to help the council plan the provision of housing for older people in Oxford in future years.

Mr Cann said: “We of course recognise that the city and county councils do not have money to share. But it will be a question of showing them that this can make a difference and it can help with both the housing shortage and ageing population.”

He believes it will represent a sound investment if, as a consequence of home share, more people do not have to go into care homes or turn up at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital and are able to stay active longer.

A thorough system of checks will need to be put in place, along with a monitoring system. Bringing the right individuals together, able to live happily under one roof, will perhaps be one of the most difficult challenges. The important thing will be to ensure both parties understand what is expected of them, maintains Mr Cann.