Lucy Ashen, mom of three, had lived in the Fulham borough of London all her life, and for over two decades she lived in a building with a reclusive and elderly neighbor.
The old woman lived next door in a one-bedroom apartment, and largely kept to herself. She had mental health issues, and while Ashen knew it was probably difficult for her to get by on her own, it wasn’t until August in 2016 that she got a peek at how ghastly the woman’s living conditions really were.
Plenty of times, Ashen had tried to reach out and connect with her, but it wasn’t until one day when the insistent woman—she said she didn’t need help over and over—let her door fall open and Ashen saw what was really inside her house.
She was living in absolute filth and squalor.
“It was horrific!” Ashen remembered. “NOBODY should live like it! So without stopping to think, I gutted her house! I mean everything went down to the toilet seat.”
The elderly woman kept insisting she needed no help, but Ashen matched her for persistence, and after a lot of work she managed to gain entry into the woman’s home with her permission.
“What I walked into was horrific and I am so glad I persisted,” she wrote in a blog post after the fact. She took photos to document the state she found the elderly neighbor’s home in (“I am using the least offensive pictures as my intention is not to shock offend or upset anybody”), so as to be able to make a report about it to help her neighbor afterward.
The entire apartment was covered in filth and mold, and was clearly unfit to live in. The front room window was broken, and she was living on the ground floor which mean her apartment was wide open for anyone to break into. There was no plumbing, and the central heating was broken.
And as the elderly neighbor was physically and mentally ailing, she was unable to clean herself or the apartment. Ashen learned that she was sleeping on the floor, and had only washed her face and cleaned her teeth using the kitchen sink—for over a decade.
For 13 years, her elderly neighbor had been living in “just never ending loneliness and despair,” Ashen wrote.
Ashen immediately took to cleaning up the house—completely transforming it so it would be a comfortable and safe place to live in.
But arduous hours into the ordeal, she realized she couldn’t do it completely alone either, and turned to Facebook to get her community to help.
Ashen shared the destitute state her neighbor was living in, and thousands showed up to respond to her call.
She made a list online, and not even 24 hours later, donations poured in and she had obtained almost all of what she would need to fix up her neighbor’s home.
“The offers of help, the donations of goods, and the beautiful messages still continue and it has astounded me,” Ashen wrote. “I honestly could not have imagined the reaction I have received, it was shocking to me! It was just so overwhelming and even writing this now I am starting to cry… Thank you just does not seem enough.”
“Look what you did!” Ashen wrote, sharing photos of the renovated apartment. “You made a house a home!!”
It took Ashen over 60 hours and 11 days to get the apartment mostly into shape, but she didn’t stop at just fixing up the physical apartment. She made sure her elderly neighbor would have three meals a day, and most importantly—company.
“The most beautiful thing to come out of this is the outpouring of love and kindness from so many people from home and around the world! People have been wonderful and human kindness is an amazing thing,” Ashen wrote.
It was actually a difficult decision for Ashen to make to share this journey online, but so passionately involved as she was, she wanted to use this story to raise awareness. “If I did this and it helped one person then it would be worth it.”
Her teenaged daughter Ruby, too, gave up her summer break to keep their elderly neighbor company as Ashen cleaned and fixed up the apartment.
“Ruby became just as determined as me to change things for her, she showed so much strength and compassion for someone so young,” Ashen wrote. The two became fast friends, and the neighbor asked after Ruby every day once she started school.
“I know she loves you to bits,” Ashen wrote. “When you come in to see her in the evening her face lights up, she loves it!”
“She truly has been saved from a lonely and degrading life, she has been given her dignity back and I intend for her to live out the rest of her life in comfort and surrounded by love,” Ashen wrote.