Every established cohousing community in the country will tell you that reaching the point where they could move in and actually start being a community came at a huge cost but that it was all worth it in retrospect. The sheer volume of work, the multitude of meetings, the struggles and disappointments, moves forward followed by moves backward, followed by moves forward again – all this forms the background for those now enjoying community in the Lancaster group, or in the Leeds one, to mention the two most recent developments.
Several weeks ago, the UK Cohousing Network had its Board meeting in the Lancaster Forgebank community.
I took the opportunity to test out its guest facilities overnight and take a look at what the residents call ‘The Street’ stretching along the river bank as it does. On arriving around 6pm, I realised I had forgotten to ask whether my name was in the pot for supper. So I just went into the Common House, where supper was being served. No problem! They don’t have a booking system, but cook more or less for 35 people each weekday evening, and it works – that means vegetarian and vegan cooking, too, so not that simple. I sat down at table with a group of people I didn’t know and we were soon chatting away. One guy told me that he had thought before he moved in that he would maybe eat communally about once a week when he got home from work, but all that had changed when he found how much he enjoyed it.
There was an easy going atmosphere in the Common House, kids galore, little clusters of people at each table, two men, the cooks, behind the counter, nothing too antiseptically clean and tidy – just like a large family living room, really.
There’s much to see and learn at Forgebank – the shared car arrangements; the rota for walking kids to school; the community shop where you can stock up on groceries on an honour system; the low energy costs in the 41 passivhaus households (roughly £200 a year for heating a 3.bed house); the weir project the community has raised funds to develop in order to harness the mill-race and provide electricity for some 300 homes.
All this is impressive, but what has stayed with me is something very simple – a notice on someone’s door telling the postman to ‘leave parcels with anyone on Forgebank walk’. There’s no way I could extend such an direction to my whole street – they don’t know who I am, for a start. Having that kind of everyday familiarity to hand, while still being able to say ‘this is my private space that I can retreat to’ – this what cohousing is about.
There’s a very short but informative video film on Lancaster’s website – do take a look to see what Cohousing Woodside could also achieve.