Tag Archives: cohousing

Visit to Springhill: Reflections of a cohousing ‘novice’


As a relatively new Cohousing Woodside member, I jumped at the opportunity to attend an Open afternoon at Spring Hill Cohousing in Stroud, Gloucestershire. On a cold wet late autumn day, I carefully followed the route from Stroud railway station. That said, it was impossible to resist a detour into Stroud farmers’ market where stalls, dripping with rain, were already evidence of a vibrant wider community where organic food, locally produced crafts and other creative enterprises were a regular feature in the town.

The tiny entry gate to Springhill itself was not a measure of the warm welcome I received as I found my way up to third floor of Springhill’s co-house.  We were a small group of visitors, initially met by three residents.  I had come wanting to learn more about the challenges and pleasures of being part of a cohousing community; their press cuttings and photographs not only told an intriguing story of Springhill’s development but also recorded some of the challenges of getting planning permission and of allaying the concerns of the wider community.

What Springhill was sharing affirmed what I was coming to understand about Cohousing Woodside’s development to date – cohousing project evolution was neither a quick nor a straightforward process.  It required patience and a willingness to be tolerant of times of huge uncertainty interspersed with a readiness to be pro-active when circumstances required. Springhill affirmed that this process can have clear and positive outcomes.

As we were treated by our guide to viewings of two houses and one flat, along with an opportunity to talk to their owners, I was inspired by how these homes were a direct representation of the cohousing ideal of providing individual dwellings within a sharing neighbourhood.  Each resident had developed the design of the inside of their home in line with their own needs, interests and vision. The co-house was a hub for regular eating together and the commitment to contribute to cooking once a month, as part of the opportunity to share an evening meal three times a week, seemed a well-established and welcome part of shared community living.


Over tea and cakes at the end of the afternoon – all home-made and brought to the co-house by different residents – I asked specifically about how each resident would express what they saw as one key challenge and one key pleasure of living in a cohousing community. I was then introduced to the three ‘p’s : parenting, parking and people! Living in community with other people, it was widely agreed, was the source of enormous pleasure but also, simultaneously, sometimes the source of challenge. That said, the Springhill residents I met were unequivocal in their commitment to finding the processes through which to address challenges and in their celebration of the mutual benefits of living in a Cohousing community. Their commitment was certainly infectious and I came away appreciative of the insights I had been given, and more aware of both the shared and different possibilities and challenges for Cohousing Woodside as we continue our journey towards establishing our Muswell Hill community.

If you wish to visit Springhill you are invited to contact their visitor coordinator at: visit@gl51tn.co.uk


Finishing touches to dwelling design

One of the rewards for taking on the early, pioneering work to establish a cohousing community is that you get the opportunity to make an input to the design of your own home.  We have reached the stage where individual households are, with the help of a PTEa architect, personalising their future environments within reasonable limits.   Do I want this wall there?  Can I have a shower rather than a bath tub?   How is the cat going to get in and out through a thick Passivhaus wall?

Cohousing Woodside at PTEa design consultation

Getting to grips with these practical issues gives a comforting sense of ‘getting there’ at last, even though move-in is some time away still. When we have these things settled, we will move on to common areas of interest like ‘how will we make the most of the common house?’ or  ‘what do we all understand by neighbourliness and how do we envisage its day-to-day expression?’

Once the design practicalities are settled, the legal agreements signed, the real work of cohousing begins – building ourselves into a cohesive, friendly, supportive group that maintains a satisfactory balance between personal self-sufficiency and communal activities. Our group is steadily growing and individual members are gradually identifying areas of work where they may contribute their skills and experience.   In the process, we are slowly getting to know each other better, which is the point of cohousing.

Older people staying in charge of their lives – Maria Brenton

I recently gave a presentation on this topic to a large audience of University of the Third Age members in Barnet. The North London U3A is a fast-growing group with some 1200 members and I look forward to joining them when I eventually move to North London. My theme drew on a longstanding interest in old age and ageing and a fierce determination to do what I can to challenge and change that spectrum of attitudes which ranges from well-meant paternalism to outright ageism in British society.   Naturally, I offered as a powerful solution for some the example of cohousing – whether the family-based, so-called ‘inter-generational’model or senior cohousing, which is also pretty inter-generational if you think about it.

A frequent refrain in my researches on Dutch senior cohousing – and one echoed by my audience in Barnet – was ‘I don’t want to grow old in the way my parents did, where they had no choices and decisions were made for them’.

Planning ahead for ageing makes a lot of sense – but not very many people seem to realise this.  Being very comfortable where you are is great, if you can see yourself managing equally happily there ten to twenty years on.  I get the feeling from many people that their heads are firmly in the sand in relation to the latter consideration. The Danes have a saying ‘Make your choices before they are made for you’.  This is wise and, although it may be a wrench now to tear yourself away from the non-age-proofed house you are living in, you may live to congratulate yourself on being so far-sighted as to move to a setting where your environment is not only built to Lifetime Homes standard (as Cohousing Woodside will be) but where you will enjoy the helpful neighbourliness you yourself have participated in building.

CW scheme development update

We can report exciting progress on CW plans – everything is getting to feel more realisable now that planning permission has opened the way to the construction process. To anyone uncertain about the success of Cohousing Woodside, we would say ‘come aboard now and help us make this an attractive and neighbourly community on one of the greenest sites in North London! Talk to us about becoming a member.’

The CW Steering Group met with Savills (Hanover’s Project Manager) on February 24, the first meeting of this ‘Project Group’ since the planning hiatus. Project meetings will be a regular occurrence and provide a formal setting for discussion and negotiation of key CW interests. 

A good number of target key dates have now been set, including the time frame when early buyer discounts will cease.  We can also announce that CW will have capacity for up to three shared ownership units for those who qualify and that we will benefit from a relaxation of Hanover’s age-restrictions so that a proportion of our households can be younger than 55+.

Design workshop 27 February for Cohousing Woodside members

The Cohousing Woodside development is set to go.  At a recent meeting with Savills’ project manager and architects, we were informed that GLA has supported Haringey Council’s planning decision for the St Luke’s site.  Hanover is preparing for Section 106 agreements and procurement during the current 6 week moratorium period.

We agreed a broad plan of action for the near future, amongst which is the potential for a design workshop at PTEa.  This will also be our first opportunity to meet the Landscape architects.

According to Savills, if all goes well, they hope to appoint a contractor by the end of summer and start on site in September 2014.

Lots of details will be revealed at the next Cohousing Woodside meeting on Sunday February 16 

Cohousing immersion evening

We welcomed Melanie Nock from the Community Project, Sussex, at our end-of year party in December. This was well-attended – by members of forming groups in London and individuals interested in finding out more about cohousing.

Melanie gave an account of how this pioneering Community Project started, with a small group of young professionals with kids who responded to an ad in the Guardian nearly 20 years ago. Some salutary lessons emerged  – while you can aim for the blue sky, what you end up with is what you can afford.  Throughout the fifteen years or so that the community has been settled, change and turnover have been dominant themes, and flexibility on the part of the community an absolute necessity.  Still a vibrant and successful scheme, the Community Project offers a positive case-study for other would-be cohousers. Melanie had to get back home to feed the horses the next morning – that won’t be an issue at Cohousing Woodside!

Our next group meeting will be on January 19. See ‘Contact us’ for details.


 When:        Sunday Dec 15th 6 – 9pm

Cohousing Woodside warmly invites you to a lively cohousing immersion evening.  Melanie Nock of the Community Project, Sussex will share her experiences of The Community Project. How we did it, what we learned and how we have lived it

The Community Project was built in 1999 by a group of young professionals with kids. This pioneering community in Laughton Sussex is still thriving today. Melanie is one of its founding members.

Cohousing Woodside is hosting this event for anyone interested in finding out more about cohousing. We will have a shared supper and pre-Christmas drinks. Please bring A DISH / finger food and drink to share

If you wish to attend please e-mail info@cohousingwoodside.co.ukbefore Dec 14th, so that we can organize our meeting space accordingly.

Looking forward to welcoming you all to Haringey. There is plenty of free on-street parking on a Sunday.


For those interested in getting cohousing off the ground this is a must.  This free event will be run in several UK regions, including London (Fri 29 November 2103).

A joint initiative from the UK Cohousing Network, Locality and the National Community Land Trust Network, the day-long workshop offers case-studies from around the country, expert master-classes on governance, legal issues, planning and land acquisition, partnerships, funding and finance and the different community-led housing models.

Case studies of the events held so far are available on:


An important feature will be advice on using the new £14m Community Led Project Support Funding announced by the Homes & Communities Agency and GLA in March this year. It offers 90% funding to help groups set up eligible community organisations, work up development proposals, consult with the local community and submit a Community Right to Build Order or progress a community led development via the traditional planning application route.  Organisations in London will need to apply to the GLA via an e-mail link (crtb@london.gov.uk). The fund closes in March 2015.  Click here for application guidance:


Ready for Ageing debate

As part of the ‘Ready for Ageing’ debate in the House of Lords on 17th October Ros Wilkins, having declared her interest in Cohousing Woodside, once again advocated cohousing as a way of living that combines today’s aspiration for the autonomy of our own homes with being within a supportive community.

“It is a model well established in continental Europe, where senior cohousing communities are encouraged by various Governments also faced with rapidly ageing societies. They are based on a range of ages over 50 and are a self-help model—fundamentally a means of prevention, harnessing the energies of younger cohorts of older people to address their own futures and help others.”

She touched on the slow progress of OWCH over the past 10 years and attributes Hanover Housing Association’s insightful initiative to support senior cohousing as an example that others should follow.

“This model of cohousing deserves much greater official support and encouragement in a housing and planning system where the cards are totally stacked against it. Hanover’s enterprise in promoting it is to be applauded and lessons need to be learnt from the 14 groups around the country struggling to develop senior cohousing. The authorities must be shaken out of their torpor by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and start to take radical action. So much could and should be done. The Government could do much to offer incentives to developers and local authorities. For instance, they could provide public land from public housing sites.

Cohousing is obviously not the answer to societal ageing, but it is one answer, and one that makes full use of the assets of our older population.”