Maria Brenton writes:
Libby and I went down to the Threshold Centre in Dorset, the weekend of May 17, for the annual conference and AGM of the UK Cohousing Network. About 40 of us, from existing and forming groups all over the country, participated in a really inspirational workshop run by Diana Leafe Christian, a groups expert from Colorado.
Diana took us through all kinds of group activities like consensus decision-making, creating community ‘glue’, antidotes for conflict, etc. We also played a slimmed-down version of ‘The Timeline’ – a game I have played in the USA – in which you have to sort out action-cards relating to creating a community and get them in a sequence that would match a real development. This leads you to think of things like ‘how can we start marketing our group? We haven’t sorted out its values and mission statement yet.’
One of the best features of a very nice weekend was the warmth and hospitality shown us all by the Threshold community, some of whom vacated their beds or made spare rooms available for those, like me, who felt too old to sleep in tents or the yurt or in the attics. Their cooking team, headed by a guy named Michael, produced the most wondrous meals – even a full cooked breakfast each morning, for which Michael got up at 4.am. Our welcome at Threshold set the tone for friendly, easy discussions, and it was fun to compare notes with so many cohousers.
Diana went on from the conference to run workshops for the Lancaster and the Community Project groups. Next time the Network gets someone like her, I hope Cohousing Woodside will be ready to arrange a workshop for its members too.
At the UKCN AGM, the ‘old’ directors – those who founded the Network – gracefully made way for the new directors, for the first time elected from the Network’s group members and individual members. Mark Westlake (Lancaster) returned to the Board as chair, I returned as a director (Cohousing Woodside) as well as Amanda Pearson (Threshold). Others were elected as individuals rather than as representatives of a group. The UKCN Charity will shortly be registered, we hope, and directors of this are Melanie Nock (Community Project), John Goodman (Co-op movement) and me.
As interest in cohousing gathers momentum in the UK the Springhill group in Stroud has come up with a brilliant concept.
On 21 – 23 June 2013 they have organized a taster weekend for those of us who want to find out more about what it is really like to live in cohousing. Their invitation says:
“Cook with us
Eat with us
Work with us
Chat with us
Stay with us
Enjoy with us”
Visit their website for details
Plans for our next monthly Friends and Visitors meeting were unveiled and warmly received last night. Our June session will consist of a regular meeting in the morning, followed by a half day facilitated workshop to explore the practicalities of cohousing living.
Cohousing Woodside open meeting 10.30am – 12noon
Lunch and networking 12noon – 1pm (Bring a dish of food to share)
GETTING REAL about cohousing 1.00 – 4.30pm
This workshop will explore the practical challenges facing cohousing communities and highlight ways forward for the Woodsiders
Our workshop is open to Development Members, Friends and Visitors. Commitment is required. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place and for details of the North London venue.
Token contribution to venue hire is £3 per head
Looking forward to another invigorating meeting
Leafing through this book we came across the following list for ‘Organizing your group’. Just the headings are listed here but they offer a helpful blueprint. The book itself is well worth reading. Diana Leafe Christian will be the keynote speaker at the UK Cohousing Network AGM 18 May at the Threshold Centre.
ORGANIZING YOUR GROUP (chapter 3)
- Decide how often you’ll meet
- Choose a decision-making method; decide how you will run meetings
- Decide on some general principles for your community (location, lifestyle, financial set up)
- Choose a preliminary financial model
- Work out a preliminary timeline
- Create a decision log
- Agree on criteria for group membership
- Identify your vision and create your vision documents – one of your first major tasks as a group
- Keep accurate financial records
- Begin writing community policies and agreements
- Help each other stay accountable
- Establish guidelines for group process
- Identify goals, record and celebrate your progress
Here is another handy checklist for Selecting people to join you on page 220
WHO DOES WELL IN COMMUNITY?
- Someone who doesn’t ‘need’ it.
- Someone with a healthy sense of self
- Someone who is open to and able to hear other points of view
- Someone with a sense of connectedness to people and an interest in the well-being of others
- Someone willing to abide by group agreements
- Someone willing to speak up
- Someone willing to be quiet and listen
“Posh communes’ show the way to love thy neighbour” read a Financial Times headline on Monday, 29 April. “The philosophy behind cohousing lies in a rosy-hued vision of what life in town and village communities used to be like, when supposedly everyone knew their neighbour and helped one another out”, writes Elaine Moore.
This is the kind of lazy journalism the cohousing movement can do without – as one of those interviewed, I did my best to nail the commune angle. However, at least cohousing is getting some attention.
The article goes on to quote a spokesperson for the Ecology Building Society saying it had seen a big growth in enquiries for cohouse financing in the past 18 months. Triodos Bank also said it is working with more than 47 projects in their planning stages. Both the forming West Hampstead group and the mostly developed Lancaster scheme are cited.
The piece refers to Matthew Smith, a lecturer in real estate at Birmingham City University, who believes social media has helped boost the number of cohousing schemes by helping people find like-minded individuals. He concludes with the statement “As long as we remain in these very unsure times, it’s a model that will continue, but I worry that when the market does come back these will be the casualties”. Who knows what this means?
As part of the UK Cohousing Network and a project consultant to the OWCH (Older Women’s Cohousing) group, I get frequent requests for interviews or copy. This last week, I was part of a feature on senior cohousing by Radio Scotland’s religion and ethics programme (1hr 44min in). Also featured was a member of the Vivarium group in Fife, who are working with a housing association and have a site in mind.
In early April, an OWCH member and I appeared on BBC London news, focusing on the site in High Barnet and OWCH plans prior to its (successful) application for planning permission. This TV interest and a BBC radio interview were sparked off by an article in the local press – online and on paper – that we placed with the help of a PR agency. TV and radio picked up this article before we even realized it was online – which just shows how the media feed off each other. Some interesting lessons for Cohousing Woodside here.
The Urban Design Group, in London, is a campaigning membership organisation which cares about the quality of life and the centrality of urban design in our cities, towns and villages.
On 23rd May it will be holding a seminar on ‘Alternative Housing Models’. This will explore the alternatives on offer, examining the potential for better urban design through different procurement and ownership models.
- The seminar will start off with ‘Self-build and plot-based urbanism’, by Gus Zogolovitch, from National Self-Build
- Maria Brenton (UKCN) will talk about the OWCH project
- Patrick Devlin (Cohousing Woodside’s architect) will discuss ‘Cohousing Design’
- Bruce Moore (Hanover) will consider ‘The housing association perspective’
- The evening will be concluded by Stephen Hill (C20 Futureplanners) on ‘Market failure – who are the real ‘Clients of Place’?