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.
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 developer of the St Luke’s site is Hanover Housing Association. It is a charity specifically aimed at providing retirement housing and continuing care facilities for an older age-group. As landlord of the St Luke’s site, it has stipulated that there should be one householder over the age of 50 years in each unit of our proposed cohousing community. This age requirement represents a relaxation of Hanover’s normal rules, but, even so, it raises issues for a group like ours. We are faced with two opposing views in establishing our prices, for example – one, that the downsizing older population is a reliable source of demand that boosts market values, or, two, that any age-restriction in housing depresses its market value.
Hanover recently announced that it is marking its 50th anniversary by ‘inviting 10 think-tanks from across the political spectrum to suggest new approaches for policy-makers and service providers’. They are asked to reflect on the implications of an ageing society where older people are ‘fitter, more active and more aspirational than previous generations’. Bruce Moore, Hanover chief executive, writing in the Guardian in early April, recognised that current models of retirement housing may no longer be appropriate for the baby boomer generation who have spent their lives exercising choice. This ‘requires us to question whether there is still going to be a place for age-specific housing’.
There is a debate to be had in Cohousing Woodside along these lines. Currently required to be ‘age-specific’, we know that this is a condition that was unwelcome to earlier members. This is softened by the fact that younger family members are welcomed alongside those of 50+ who qualify for membership. We are far from anything resembling a retirement community – even if retirement-age goalposts were also not constantly changing. Will Hanover eventually change its orientation to celebrate its own 50th birthday? Would we choose to specify the 50+ age-range if we were given the choice? There are arguments for and against and it is undeniable that people who have reared their own families, often welcome an environment that is not dominated by other people’s kids. It is clear that, in later life, one can be out of step with one’s neighbours if they are all out at work and you are not. We are determined that Cohousing Woodside will not turn into a ‘retirement community’ but will enjoy a broad mix of younger and older ages, workers, non-workers etc that feels right and balanced.
Cohousing Woodside met again on Sunday March 17 and welcomed around a dozen visitors who came for the first time to enquire into the project and have supper with us.
In an informal get-together it became clear that most were looking both to downsize and to find congenial neighbours and a sense of community. A number said that this would be their final move and last home if they join us.
We went through large scale plans of the site, explained the main features of Passivhaus standards, and discussed some of the planning issues that have yet to be resolved. We ourselves are hoping to have some more certainty on valuations within the next week, as prices are, understandably, a key concern.