Ageing with attitude: Empty nesters take flight with Freebird

Margaret Jennings speaks to Peter Mangan, who struck on his innovative idea for the sharing economy when he asked his dad to keep an eye on his house.

Ageing with attitude: Empty nesters take flight with Freebird

SOCIAL isolation and loneliness may be a growing problem among people in their 60s and upwards, but one Irishman has come up with a fun solution to encourage empty nesters and pensioners to broaden their horizons and even make money if they choose, in the process.

It’s called the Freebird Club, a website offering peer-to-peer homestays with fellow older adults.

Think airbnb for seniors, but instead guests and hosts operate though an online membership model and there is a decidedly social aspect, in that the host always interacts with the guest.

The social element was one of the main reasons that Dublin-based, 46-year-old Peter Mangan, came up with the idea in the first place, when he asked his dad, Owen, to look after airbnb guests at his house in Killorglin, Co Kerry.

“I had built my own house on land my dad gave me and I used airbnb to rent it out to cover the mortgage. Because I was working in Dublin my dad was doing the meeting and greeting on my behalf. He really enjoyed it. He’s a widower — my mother died some years ago — and he is living alone and is largely retired as a vet.”

Owen, who is now 76, has a lot more time on his hands and Peter noticed that when time-rich older couples visited, “there was another dynamic entirely in that they were free to go to the pub, or a trad session, so dad would invite them out, or show them the Gap of Dunloe, or wherever else, and they might have dinner too.”

The online reviews Peter was getting back were exceptionally positive making it clear that the social side was the highlight of the holiday: “I saw this as very positive for my dad too and that this was something clearly way beyond the airbnb model, where people are often given the keys or staying in vacant properties.

“It’s almost three years now since the seed for the idea of the Freebird Club was sown, but as senior manager for research operations at UCD, Peter was aware that one of the big social trends we are facing is our rapidly ageing society and all the challenges that brings.

He pinpointed loneliness and isolation, financial limitations and the lack of travel options for independent older adults, as areas that his customised age-friendly web platform would embrace.

With this positive ageing social spin it’s no surprise that the project won the European Social Innovation Competition in 2015 and was selected as one of 15 finalists by the European Investment Bank this year for their European Social Innovation Tournament.

In addition, it was though winning another competition, the Aging2.0 Global Start-up Search pitch event for London, that Peter was able to base himself there for three months to avail of expertise that would see his business plan become more than just a bright idea.

“I took three months’ unpaid leave from work and totally immersed myself. I was able to do market research, meet up with organisations and do focus sessions with older adults and look at the reality of getting it off the ground.”

That reality has been realised with the set-up of his website and already a paid membership of more than 700 from countries all over the world – 90 of those currently hosts, from 19 countries, offering rooms in their houses, with the remainder guests, open to staying.

The name Freebird is rooted in the online club’s ethos of “enabling seniors to travel, socialise and earn money in new ways” while “empowering them, enhancing their self esteem and overall wellbeing”.

“Freebird suggests the flight and freedom — opening up the world for those who have their mortgage paid and free time — and the bird comes from that empty nest profile,” says Peter.

But what about the tax implications for seniors hosts who rent out free rooms? He’s hoping that won’t be an issue.

“The beauty of this demographic is a lot of retirees would be below the tax bracket so won’t have to worry about tax returns,” he says.

“Who are the people with all the spare rooms? It tends to be the empty nesters — but they are stuck in fixed income pensions. For those who might still be working, I am putting together a case to the revenue commissioners to explore how it might be treated differently because it is a club.”

In offering an incentive to seniors to use the web, earn more money, travel and connect with others of a similar age, he is giving recognition and a liberating leg-up to those who are living longer more vital lives.

His dad Owen, who continues to welcome guests, has been the prototype, of sorts: “He thinks it is all so exciting,” says Peter.

“And of course it all began with him.”

  • The Freebird Club is being officially launched in Dublin later this month, but the website is up and running at 

Scrambled life

If you eat eggs regularly you may be on the right track for adding extra years to your life — that’s if you knock them back raw.

The world’s oldest living woman, Italian Emma Morano, who will be 117 on November 29, said she has lived on two raw eggs daily since she was 20 — since her doctor told her it would be good for her anaemia — and biscuits.

Her doctor Carlo Bava, says he has never seen his patient eat fruit and vegetables — a diet which we are constantly told is essential for good health.

And he pays tribute not just to Emma’s longevity, but her ability to bounce back:

“Despite everything she always recovers,” he said “When she is well, she really is well.” Perhaps that’s her true secret to longevity.

Ageing quote

“Stress is caused by being here but wanting to be there

— Author Eckhart Tolle

Silver surfer

Check out the minerals and vitamins we need as we age

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