What is cohousing?
Cohousers are often described as people with a strong moral imagination for the kind of neighbourhood they want to live in and the values it holds.
Typically, cohousing communities live in a compact way in a group of flats or houses, sharing common amenities such as a laundry, kitchen, garden and recreation facilities.
They usually contain between ten and 40 people and can be rural, suburban, or urban.
Most are mixed, with singles, families, children and older people. But seniors are now designing cohousing developments aimed just at people in their later years, such as the Older Women Cohousing group, which recently established a community based in a small group of flats in Barnet, north London.
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Forming or joining a cohousing community
To set up a cohousing project, form a group to discuss all aspects of what is wanted and how you’d like the balance between communality and privacy to work.
This will probably take months and is a good way of getting to know each other and iron out disagreements before moving in.
Cohousing communities depend on cooperation and collaboration, from start to finish, and it is usual for all members to contribute to a fund to run the project and to take on specific roles.
Alternatively, you can find an established cohousing group and if there is a vacancy and the members accept you, buy in or rent a home. The UK Cohousing Network (UKCN) advertises vacancies on its website (cohousing.org.uk). It also features a resources pack offering general advice on cohousing, including legal issues, finding a site, design and build and settling in.
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Financing a cohousing project
Commonly, people sell homes, raise equity in other ways or get a mortgage for their community home.
But some housing associations purchase places in cohousing and lease them. The Nationwide Foundation has a two-year programme to help community groups in England with guidance on funding and legal structure in the early stages. Some small grants are given.
Big Lottery’s Accelerating Ideas programme supports work around cohousing for older people.
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Some cohousing communities
Forgebank in Halton, Lancaster, is an eco-housing development of leasehold homes, shared buildings and riverside habitat containing a multigenerational group of around 80 people. It aims for close links with the outside community.
Thundercliffe Grange is the UK’s oldest cohousing community. Thirty-five years ago, a group of local government officers, their families and friends bought an eighteenth-century mansion house set in 20 acres of mixed parkland and woodland in South Yorkshire. Many of them still live in this community of singles, couples and elders.
Springhill Cohousing is the first new-build cohousing scheme, with charming wood-fronted homes, in the UK. There are 34 units, ranging from one-bedroomed flats to five-bedroomed houses, and a three-storey common house with a kitchen where meals are cooked and served three times a week. Other shared meals and community-based social activities happen there, too.
Copper Lane is situated behind some north London terraces and surrounded with rear gardens. It has six homes designed by the owners, with the help of architects, and a small but strong community.
Cannock Mill in Colchester, Essex, is run by and for over-50s. There are 23 eco-friendly homes, some of which are still available to buy or rent. See cannockmillcohousingcolchester.co.uk for more details.
The UKCN has details of all cohousing communities, which can be visited and when.
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Is cohousing for you?
Cohousing can be wonderful, but it isn’t for everyone. Ask yourself what you hope the gains will be and if you are suited to this style of living. Things to consider include:
- Am I sociable? Do I welcome the opportunity to live in a community and get involved in sharing home tasks and activities?
- Am I comfortable with a community decision-making process that strives to ensure all voices are heard, and to reach decisions? Can I cope with disagreements and not having things done the way I wish at times?
- What balance between privacy and communal living is right for me? Is this possible in the community I am considering?
- Am I happy to get involved in shared tasks, such as working in the garden and cooking together?
- Would I be comfortable selling my own home or raising a loan to be able to buy into a cohousing scheme?
- Does having neighbours who I must see all the time and get along with, but who, at best, will be there to give support, help and companionship, appeal to me or make me want to run for the hills?
Read our feature on cohousing in the March issue of Saga Magazine.
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