Co-housing: combining the benefits of private space and communal living
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in New Sector magazine, 2008. It forms part of the forthcoming report Meeting Housing Needs the Co-operative way.
Co-housing provides a way of living co-operatively without giving up the sense of security and privacy which can come from having a place that's your own.
Typically, members of a co-housing group have their own space in a flat or house in a larger development – perhaps a substantial mansion house or farmstead which has been converted into units – which is also equipped with shared communal facilities. Each individual unit is leased from the co-housing association which owns the freehold (or in some cases the head lease) of the property. At the same time, however, the members of each household are also automatically members of the co-housing body, meeting together regularly to undertake the work of managing and looking after the whole property.
Whilst co-housing allows members to enjoy the their individual homes, there's an emphasis on community activities as well. As one well-established co-housing association has put it, “The aim of the group is to live co-operatively, jointly managing the land and communal facilities, informally sharing skills and support and generally enjoying each other's company. We do not want an institutionalised feel, but we do want to be more than simply a housing estate”.
Co-housing is a significant part of the housing mix in other European countries, and the idea is beginning to take off in Britain , too. The UK Cohousing Network links both existing co-housing projects and new projects still in the planning phase.
One of the established co-housing communities is at Laughton in East Sussex , home to about seventy people, adults and children in roughly equal numbers. Laughton Lodge itself was an old residential hospital complex, made up of three large buildings and some smaller properties which was acquired in the late 1990s. After major renovation and building work, what was once an institution was reborn as a set of seventeen pleasant homes. The group also received planning permission to built four new houses.
The Laughton Lodge freehold is owned by a company limited by guarantee, the Community Project. Members purchase their individual homes from the company by leasehold and are also automatically directors. The group say that they aim to work by consensus decision-making, and so far have never needed to use the fall-back voting procedure.
The sense of being in a wider community is important at Laughton Lodge. One of the original buildings, Shawfield, has been converted primarily into communal space, and here there is a hall, a large kitchen and dining areas, meeting rooms, guest rooms and an office complex. The kitchen is used particularly every Friday when all members are able if they wish to eat together.
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