Category Archives: Cohousing Woodside news

Housing for an Ageing Population Seminar

Housing for an Ageing Population seminar

Housing for an Ageing Population Seminar
Wednesday 7th October 2015 | Registration & Breakfast: 8.00am | Start: 8:30am | Finish: 10.00am

There are still a few remaining spaces at our Housing for an Ageing Population Seminar which will be held on Wednesday 7th October 2015.

Partner Charlotte Cook will be joined by a panel of experts:

  • Jenny Pannell, Independent Housing Policy Researcher
  • Kevin Beirne, Group Director of Housing, Care & Support, One Housing Group
  • Jeremy Moyse, Strategic Development Manager, SEQOL

They will be focusing their discussions on the demands and needs of the individual. The panel will also look at the investor role and use of pension monies to assist in a provision of housing for older people, as well as recognizing the role the housing association provider has taking account of provision of all tenures of housing for this wide and extensive group of people.

This seminar will begin with a short networking breakfast and there is no charge to attend.

Please click here to register  your attendance and here to add this event to your Outlook calendar.

We hope that you can join us. if you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact our events team on 020 7593 0296 or email


Cohousing Woodside visioning workshop

In August we organised a two day visioning workshop.  On one of the hottest weekends of the year it tested our commitment to the full.   Like most groups in their development phase our regular monthly meetings are pretty much filled up with business matters, as well as welcoming and informing new people seeking to know if our cohousing scheme is right for them. There’s never enough time to chill and talk.

We organised the workshop as an opportunity to break out of the routine, meet each other in a different way and get talking.

With an external facilitator, we started off by building up a picture of what we are seeking to realise through Cohousing Woodside,  what could help us achieve it and what could stop us getting there.  We were invited to close our eyes and visualise what we want to see in place in 4 years’ time.  What sort of group would we like it to be? What do we want from it? What do we want to give to it?   Common threads included a community with ‘a smile and say hello culture’, ‘more than just friendly neighbours’; ‘mutual support’; ‘shared activities’.   We want a community that relates to the surrounding area rather than keeps to itself, a group that is diverse, inclusive and fair in our dealings with people.

DSC_2226As we talked it became clear that we share a fair amount of excitement at the challenge ahead, at the thought of a new beginning in new surroundings and stimuli. We are looking for ‘a loose, friendly set-up’ where everyone plays whatever part they can offer, living sustainably and ethically and getting the right balance between privacy and communal life.   We want fun, parties and shared interests.

What worries us, besides the costs, which we don’t yet know, are the possibility of ‘too much group-think’ or ‘people joining us for the housing rather than our cohousing ethos’.   There was an awareness that focussing on inevitable anxieties may even be preventing us from enjoying the journey we are on together now.

Our next step has been our ‘Come dine with me’ initiative. This is where members organise get-togethers over a meal for a few of the group at a time, in their own homes or away, so that we get to know each other better.  Other roll-up-our-sleeves opportunities are small task-group meetings.  They are beginning to address various aspects of our future life, like car-sharing, or how we equip the Common House.

P1010029The workshop has helped us organise ourselves to make this inclusive, participative community work.   There is much to do. The developer is poised to start the marketing phase of what is now rebranded  ‘Woodside Square’ in Muswell Hill and we ourselves are poised to contribute an understanding of cohousing to the process.

Cohousing Woodside is actively seeking new members to come and join us. Our group-building process was given a shot in the arm through the workshop and we now feel we know each other better. It is an ongoing process, of course.  It must welcome and embrace new members as they arrive, catch them up and help them feel at home in the group.  It must also sustain itself into the reality of living together in Cohousing Woodside come spring 2017.

Grace Kim Common House workshop

Grace Kim, an architect from Seattle, who is a member of a developing cohousing group and also an active member of the US Cohousing Network, gave a group of cohousers in London the benefit of her research on European Common Houses on 20 June. Grace is in the UK to contribute to a research seminar at Lancaster organised by the UK Cohousing Network. She agreed to a London version geared particularly to the space limitations of urban living.

As might be expected, Grace’s input was heavily visual and we viewed many significant features from the 22 Danish cohousing communities she has visited, while she drew our attention to the ‘Pattern language’ they expressed. Her starting point was that the Common House is the nexus of cohousing – so important that it should stand out like a town hall and be visible from every home and should be on a ground floor, a funnel for everyday interaction and communications.

Given the centrality of the common meal to cohousing (most groups eat together from 2 or 3 times a week to every day), Grace stressed the importance of ‘the eating atmosphere’.   The Common House ‘should be designed primarily for eating, and other uses are secondary’. The Common House kitchen needs to be planned in work-zones and equipped for heavy usage, with neat bins on wheels for heavy things like plates.  Seating capacity should be planned for 60% of the group at the same time; furnishing should avoid ‘member donations’ and a mishmash of different styles; ugly stacked seating should be stored away and tables should be sized around what is a conversational group of no more than 6-8 people.  We had some discussion about the importance assigned to spending money on quality of design in Denmark in contrast to the USA.  She placed much emphasis on natural light and lighting hung low over tables to create the intimacy of ‘a room within a room’ and also reduce noise. With long flexes, it can be hooked up for other activities.

Cosy nooks and alcoves are a feature of much Danish cohousing and we saw examples of ingenious use of space, creating little meeting, reading, jigsaw-playing places. Acoustics are very important but often overlooked – and retrofit acoustic provision is often unsatisfactory. Grace would recommend getting the services of an acoustic engineer ideally. Sloping ceilings and different ceiling heights offer hierarchies of space and better acoustic possibilities; cladding or baffling with Tectum material or E-Coustic felted squares can often be applied quite artistically. ‘Don’t paint over the acoustic material or it will be rendered ineffective’.

‘Design decisions’, said Grace, ‘are not possible via consensus’. Reconciling subjective views in endless meetings can be avoided by ‘empowering small teams to make the decisions’. Those unhappy with the decisions can meet the team and suggest alternatives, but the ‘greater good’ should prevail.

The session ended with an account of Grace’s own group of around 9 families in downtown Seattle – a scheme where they are trying to limit cost-inflation and profit so as to achieve diversity of income. They are also planning a ‘roof top farm’ to teach their children where food comes from, to demonstrate that urban roof tops can contribute to urban agriculture, to add to the pollen-pathways for bees and to be a catalyst for a neighbourhood local food network.

Cohousing Common House design workshop with Grace Kim

London Saturday 20 June 2015  10.45 – 13.45

Booking required.  See ticketing website for venue details.

The UK Cohousing Network is extremely excited to be able to host a workshop with Grace Kim.  Grace is Principal of Seattle based Schemata Workshop, a founder member of Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing and former Director of the US Cohousing Association.

The focus of the workshop will be on making the best use of limited communal space in urban cohousing. Grace will be drawing on her personal involvement in creating a very urban cohousing community in Seattle and insight from her book ‘Designing the Common House’.

This session will feature a range of topics on common house design, best practice to consider, and practical experiences including cost and planning issues.  Also there will be insight from visiting common homes around the US and Europe.

This is very much an opportunity not to be missed. To keep the fee low, please bring a sandwich. Tea and coffee will be available.

A word from Jo Gooding of Cohousing Network UK

**Please note that if there are insufficient numbers we may have to cancel.  In the event of this sadly becoming necessary we shall make the decision by 2pm on Wed 17th June.  If this is the case we shall provide a full refund of  the value of the ticket purchased. Please email with any questions and I will be happy to help.**

Cohousing Woodside does Big Lunch again

Cohousing Woodside picnic cup cakes 140601

Cohousing Woodside invites anyone local who is interested or just curious to come join us for a picnic (bring own food and chair).  We shall be in the clearing near the cafe in Highgate Woods this coming Sunday 7 June, from 2.30-4.30pm.

Cohousing Woodside members are keen to meet our future neighbours.  We can also tell you about the cohousing scheme and update you on progress on the St Luke’s hospital site.  You can find us by looking out for our banner (and possibly a gazebo).

Big Lunch is a national initiative.

Group building – Maria Brenton


Although actually building a place we can all live in is a crucial element in cohousing, I would always argue that it is just as important to build the group itself.  What’s the point of taking with us to Cohousing Woodside the same distant relationships we may already experience with our present neighbours?   We might as well stay put!   It’s pretty vital too, before we put serious money down, to have the security of knowing that we are all singing more or less from the same hymn sheet and pursuing some of the same goals and values. Opportunities to share our thoughts and ideas about these often get blocked by the seemingly more urgent work that tends to dominate our meetings, re legal agreements, the design, the finance, etc.

Cohousing Woodside Group development workshop

We made a start on addressing this imbalance recently with a workshop aimed at getting to know each other better in an informal way. Tracing key events in our lives decade by decade, turned out to be fun and raised a lot of laughs.   Who would have thought we have so much overseas experience in our lives; that there is quite a lot of film-making expertise in the group;  that one of our number lived to tell the tale of a near-lynching (aged six) by older school fellows in rural Canada?  Herbal medicine, teaching dance, defending important law-cases, protesting at Greenham,  getting arrested under the Official Secrets Act, running the Marathon – all these experiences and more are to be found in the past lives of Cohousing Woodside members – and we haven’t even got a full complement of households yet!

Turning our attention to swapping ideas and opinions, we took a first stab, in small groups, at sorting out what we all think is meant by ‘mutual support and neighbourliness’ – the hallmark of cohousing.   It was encouraging to find a broad level of agreement on this. You will find its first fruit in an addition to the Development Plan, where we have elaborated on our original statement of maintaining ‘responsibility for ourselves’ and ‘neighbourliness’. Here we expect of ourselves and future members ‘a willingness to help out one’s neighbour with those small services that arise in daily living as well as with unexpected incidents or crises from time to time’. Friendly give-and-take should combine, we reckon, with ‘care not to intrude on privacy and personal space’.   We should make our own care arrangements and the group’s commitment to mutual support and informal sharing ‘should not be translated into a right’.  The Membership & Policy task group will build on this to bring a formulated policy to the whole group for agreement.

In August, we hope to take group-building further through a two-day workshop with a trained facilitator who has already worked with the Lilac cohousing group in Leeds to help them shape their common assumptions and sense of shared direction. Watch the blog-space for a report on this in due course.

Green sky thinking

GST15logoIts that time of year again when Open City hosts a week of stimulating discussions about how the built environment industry can review their current and future roles in the efficient greening of London.

From site tours to Post Occupation Evaluations, learn about the role the architects and engineers play in the design, creation and delivery of some of the most innovative buildings in London


On Saturday March 14 Cohousing Woodside organised a networking and social event for all cohousing groups in London.  It was a buzzy forum for exchange of information and ideas.

From North London, representatives of the Older Women’s Cohousing group (OWCH), Hackney Cohousing Project, LoCo (London Countryside Cohousing Group) and Cohousing Woodside attended, along with the only one based in South London, Featherstone Cohousing.   A total of around 40 people, including three university researchers, each pursuing different aspects of the cohousing process.   All the groups are still in the formation stage but at different points of the journey – OWCH is the furthest on, with construction having started;   Cohousing Woodside and Featherstone have secured planning permission, and the others are still in the planning phases.

Photography by Jan Potter
Photography by Jan Potter

This was the first time all the groups had come together like this and there was a lively interest in exploring key facts on each others’ progress so far.  Each group gave a short account of development milestones reached and successes and challenges encountered.  All had a tale to tell about how demanding of time and energy it is to set up a cohousing community with Loco and OWCH having managed best to share out the load.   As both have been working away for 12 and 16 years respectively, this is not surprising – it takes time for new members of a group to step up.  Discussion ranged over related areas such as building community and trust and taking decisions consensually in large groups.  Great ideas like ‘role playing’ exercises and ‘ever after’ task groups were shared.  All are struggling with issues like affordability, market pressures or tenure mix.  Hackney has a very interesting Council-enabled shared ownership model.

Loco is a now successfully self-developing and self-financing, having quit its brief partnership with Hanover; the small Hackney group is working with Peabody, and OWCH, Featherstone and Cohousing Woodside are all working with Hanover.  Cohousing Woodside is the only group sharing a site with a larger Hanover development and therefore struggling for recognition of the nature of cohousing, while the others have dedicated sites. The difficulties of reconciling the cohousing ethos with an organisational culture unused to equal relationships with end-users came out strongly in discussion.

It is clear that those assembled enjoyed the exchange and appreciated the opportunity to network with other cohousers. Another such get together before too long would be very useful and might form a basis for a ‘London Cohousing Network’.

CAPITAL DIARY – Maria Brenton

There is an encouraging flurry of activity on Cohousing in London at the moment.  March 14th will see a ‘get-together’ of the London cohousing groups for an informal exchange of their experiences so far, initiated by Cohousing Woodside’s Group Development taskgroup. See a forthcoming blog for a report of this event.

An ‘Introduction to Cohousing Ideas and People’ workshop will be held at Pollard, Thomas Edwards architects’ practice in Islington on the evening of March 25.   This is for interested individuals in London who are new to cohousing.   It will feature talks on: ‘Intentional Communities – what is Cohousing? (Jo Gooding, UKCN); ‘Building a Cohousing Group’ (Maria Brenton, UKCN); ‘Money and Sites’ (Toby Lloyd, Hackney Group); ‘Collaborative Design’ (Patrick Devlin, PTEa) and ‘What to expect from your builder’ (Steve Drury).  Representatives of existing groups active in the capital will be available to talk to those who come. Write to for further details.

OWCH workshop 2On March 26, cohousing will be included in ‘Public Wisdom’, a conference at Caxton Hall, around ageing, creativity and the public realm.  This is funded by the Baring Foundation and will feature the eminent Professor Richard Sennett whose work as a sociologist has focussed on social ties in cities and the effects of urban living on individuals in the modern world. The programme also features Patrick Devlin, PTEa’s architect for the OWCH scheme in Barnet. He will speak about the participative process he developed with the Older Women’s Cohousing group, along with Rachel Douglas, an OWCH member, who will speak on the OWCH women’s experience of being involved in designing their own building.