Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
The Freebird Club hopes to form new networks among isolated older residents.
The sharing economy largely caters to the needs of young, mobile residents. But in crowded cities, where older residents often feel isolated and lonely, there may be an even greater need to accommodate the elderly.
The soon-to-launch Freebird Club offers a room-sharing service for those over 50. The service closely resembles Airbnb: members rent out their spare rooms for a fixed nightly rate. The goal, according to the company’s founder Peter Mangan, is to form new networks among middle-aged and elderly folks and encourage their continued mobility.
Inspiration for the club came from Mangan’s father, who helped Mangan rent out his countryside home in county Kerry*. At the time, Mangan’s father was a widower living alone, and instantly connected with the older residents who came to stay at his son’s place. These positive interactions, combined with the existing research on loneliness among older populations, spurred Mangan to develop an initial design. In November, The Freebird Club was one of three concepts to win the European Social Innovation Competition. With a prize of just over $55,000 in tow, the service is set to launch this June in Ireland and the U.K., with hopes to expand to other locations worldwide.
As of now, The Freebird Club is a member-only service, and plans to charge a small, one-time fee to make older adults feel more secure about the process. As an added safety measure, Mangan is working with a cybersecurity expert to vet members and verify their identity. He is also toying with the idea of a buddy system, which would grant family members access to a club member’s profile.
Although some older citizens may be reticent to partake in such an intimate service, there’s reason to believe that demand for an “Airbnb for the elderly” will only increase with time. A January report from the Global Coalition on Aging and the McGraw Hill Financial Global Institute finds that nearly one billion people aged 65 and over will be living in developing cities by 2050.
These older folks are far from a burden to urban vitality. “There’s a perception that older people are a bit more vulnerable,” says Mangan. “[But] a lot of older people that I know are quite maverick and adventurous … At this stage in your life, you now have a freedom that you haven’t had in years.”
In fact, a 2015 study from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that nearly a quarter of U.S. residents age 55 and older consider themselves “providers” in the sharing economy. What they need now is for the sharing economy to start providing for them.
*CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect that Mangan's country home is in county Kerry, not Dublin.