A collaborative project funded by the Grundtvig Foundation and focused on older people and independent living is bringing together representatives from Poland, Italy, Sweden and the UK.
15 participants met in July at the Community Project in Sussex, a trip organised by the UK Cohousing Network because of a shared interest in senior cohousing. A feature of the weekend was a trip to the Threshold Cohousing Community in Dorset (above), where the community was holding an ‘open day’. Two residents talked about their experience of life in the group and also gave a tour of the property. Back in Sussex, three OWCH members gave an account of the development of their group. The next time the group meets will be in Sweden, in February 2014, where they will also tour cohousing communities.
The essence of the Grundtvig project (called ‘Co-EldeRly Project) is to explore different national approaches to independent living among older people with high support needs. Both the Swedes and the Brits take the view that this group of people would not embark on cohousing, but that individuals age in place in cohousing who may develop high support needs. We see senior cohousing as a way of preventing or delaying dependency and primarily focused on the ‘young-old’. Cohousing is not known in Poland – the interest of our Polish colleagues is in lifelong learning and the University of the Third Age is widespread there. There is a vigorous cohousing movement in Italy, but, strangely enough, our Italian partners came here to learn about it.
A connecting theme pulling the Grundtvig project together is that of ‘mutuality’ along a spectrum, beginning at one end with small scale initiatives among the old such as friendship circles, telephone rings or time banks. At the other end lies the cohousing model.
When the study trips to Sweden and Poland are complete, sometime in 2014, a final report will be produced illustrating the various ways that old age and independent living may be addressed.
Last night’s presentation by Bruce Moore, CEO of Hanover, seemed to us in the gallery an eloquent and convincing case for meeting LB Haringey’s policy requirements for general needs social housing. The arguments were not that easy to follow, but the core of the Hanover case was that 51 older tenants of the borough’s existing stock would be offered incentives to move out of under-occupied social housing, freeing this up for the families the Council wishes to house – and therefore housing more people. Not only would older tenants be offered very attractive alternative housing in a desirable area but Hanover would add its own cash incentives per bedroom to the cash offered by the Council. This was not an argument most of the planning committee members wished to accept.
The borough has large numbers of families in dire need of rental accommodation. The problem for Hanover – and therefore for Cohousing Woodside – is that the spread of general needs housing is uneven through the borough and councillors wish to redress this by locating it specifically on the St Luke’s site. That Hanover, as a charity constitutionally restricted to housing provision for older people, cannot provide for families, was an argument that fell on deaf ears. The housing association has upped its numbers of social rentals, all to be provided at no cost to the public purse and effectively subsidising the borough’s housing stock in the absence of grant. However, this is for people over 55. Moore quoted to the Committee its own policy priorities relating to older people, but these did not seem to be rated as important by the councillors. When challenged by a councillor to bring a more family-oriented housing association to the St Luke’s site to deliver the general needs housing, Bruce Moore stated that this could be possible, but the result would be a much smaller total number of homes provided, as Hanover’s investment would and could not be on the table.
A clear majority of committee members decided to reject the application on the grounds that it failed to meet the Council’s policy requirements for general needs housing – ie. family housing, not housing for older people. Hanover’s position was that the Council’s requirements were contingent on ‘viability’. In other words, with an objective assessment of how the finances stack up, a calculation of how much social rental accommodation could be provided. Opinions on ‘viability’ at the July planning sub-committee remained poles apart. Thus Hanover will appeal.
For the Cohousing Woodside group, this position was not unexpected. It means considerable further delay. However, it also affords us more time to grow and consolidate the group. If the appeal supports the Council’s arguments, and compromises are forced on Hanover, there may be knock-on consequences for the Cohousing scheme, but these remain to be seen. For the locals around St Luke’s, their fears about over-burdening local schools may turn out to be well founded. For Haringey residents in the over 55 age-bracket, particularly those affected by the bedroom tax and looking for somewhere smaller to move to, the message seems to be that there is adequate sheltered housing and they are in no way a priority of Haringey Council.
The latest word is that Haringey Council’s planning sub-committee will meet on Monday 8th July to determine the St Luke’s site application. Do come along to lend support to Hanover’s redevelopment proposal.
The committee will meet at Haringey Council, Civic Centre, High Road, Wood Green, London N22 8ZW. Click here for a map. It starts at 7pm and is open to the public. The St Luke’s redevelopment might be first on the Agenda if a lot of people turn up.