Our founding ethos and where we are today

The Abbeyfield Society started from humble beginnings, and the vision of one man. Today we care and support older people across the UK and beyond. Here's our story and the story of the founding principles that we proudly uphold to this day.

Our history

The first Abbeyfield house was established in 1956 by Richard Carr-Gomm. He recognised that a lot of older people were living alone and feeling isolated in their own communities and wanted to provide them with a safe and secure home where they could find friendship and support.

Soon after purchasing a house in Bermondsey and inviting two local residents to move in, he had purchased five more properties and formally set up The Abbeyfield Society.  Before long, volunteers around the county had formed their own societies and the dream of a nationwide charity providing high quality housing, support and companionship in later life had become a reality.

From those humble beginnings we have developed wonderful facilities that include over 500 houses and homes with committed staff and 4,000+ volunteers in the UK.  Worldwide there are now around 9,000 residents living in 850 houses and homes and this number is set to increase over the coming years.

Today we’re living in a very different world but the need remains for the same level of commitment to older people and that commitment is at the heart of everything we do.

Over time, we have gained friends and supporters from all walks of life, many of whom have discovered Abbeyfield because somebody they know has lived with us.

Our structure

Our houses and homes aren’t owned by a parent company and we don’t have shareholders. Any income goes straight back into providing the best possible services and meeting the changing needs of our residents.

With over 500 houses and homes around the country, at Abbeyfield you’ll find everything from a Victorian terrace in a city with just four flats to a purpose built development with 78 rooms and a wide range of facilities.

Some of our houses and homes offer everything from a library to a swimming pool, well-being centre and cinema so you’ll always find something to keep you busy and entertained. You can chose to be independent but with the security of neighbours and staff on hand to call on in an emergency, or there are specialist dementia homes.

You’ll just need to decide what environment would suit you best and check if we have what you’re looking for in the right area. Try our care finder tool, to see what type of Abbeyfield suits you best.

Our international reach

From a humble start in South London, Abbeyfield has grown over the years from the whole of the UK to worldwide presence. Currently, we have operations in eight territories outside the UK spread over five continents. These are currently:

In Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Belgium we have national offices led by Executive Directors. All overseas houses meet the Abbeyfield quality standard or a local equivalent.

There are general differences between the types of housing offered, depending on normal arrangements within that country. Generally, the accommodation is traditional Abbeyfield assisted living, supplying communal living for between eight and 12 residents per house. In Australia we have three care facilities. In total, we have approximately 100 houses serving 1,000 residents. Generally these houses cater for people with lesser economic means, so we offer below market rentals.

Around the world the model of the traditional Abbeyfield house remains fairly consistent with two meals and a breakfast buffet provided, but there are some important differences. In Belgium, the houses are run by the residents who sit on the Board /House Management Committee. The residents also shop and prepare meals for the other residents on a rota basis. This set up suits younger residents (60-75) more than older residents.

In South Africa, we provide housing for the poorest people. We are developing 'beacon’ projects to replace the 'shack towns' where people would be living in tiny shacks with no electricity or running water. By 'beacon' projects we mean innovative projects in partnership with other Non Government Organisations and the Government that can serve as a development model for other cities.

In the townships, up to 50% of households are thought to be headed up by adolescents, and older people may be victims of 'pension mugging' in these shack towns, where the adolescents take the pensions to spend and effectively make the older person a prisoner in their own home. Our development project – Pelican Park is a joint project between Habit for Humanity, The City of Capetown and Abbeyfield. This is the first mixed race, mixed income ‘new town’ development in South Africa. Over 3,400 houses, schools, shops and parks will replace a township. The Abbeyfield house will initially have 14 beds, and will be run by a local committee, and centrally owned, with funding from The Abbeyfield Society.

We are forecasting very good growth overseas of around 50% over the next five years. We are also actively studying the Abbeyfield model and looking at how we can adapt it to maintain and grow it in the future, to benefit even more people.

Our patrons

We are lucky to have the support of many patrons, who give their time and expertise to support our work. Our Royal patron HRH the Prince of Wales and the Carr-Gomm family are invaluable in underpinning our values.

We thank all our patrons for their continued support.

Royal Patron
HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB, OM

President
Brenda Dean, Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde

Vice-President
Michael J Staff MBE

Patrons:

  • The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Baron Williams of Oystermouth
  • The Duchess of Northumberland
  • Lord John Prescott
  • Harriet Carr-Gomm
  • David Carr-Gomm
  • Adam Carr-Gomm
  • Elizabeth Parker (Carr-Gomm)
  • Anna Newton (Carr-Gomm)
  • Dame Vera Lynn DBE, LLD,M.Mus
  • Ron Kenyon, OBE
  • Michael Brooks
  • The Rt Hon Baroness Virginia Bottomley of Nettlestone, JP
  • Christopher G R Buxton, OBE
  • Dame Gillian Wagner, DBE, OBE
  • Dame Judi Dench, DBE
  • The Lord Elis-Thomas
  • The Rt Hon Lord Howard of Lympne QC
  • Alun E Michael, JP
  • The Marchioness of Anglesey DBE LVO
  • Dame Patricia Routledge, OBE
  • Martin Shreeve, OBE MBA DSW BSc (Econ)
  • Professor Alan Walker, DLitt FRSA
  • Aled Jones