Economic Justice Group
Cohousing & Transition
Frances Voelcker writes ...
'I have been concerned for a long time about our over-large and inequitable eco-footprints (that is, the amount of over-consumption a typical western lifestyle imposes on the planet), and how difficult it is to persuade ourselves to re-arrange our lives so that we fit within a fair and sustainable eco-footprint. I think that for some of us at least, co-housing could help reduce our consumption without socially unacceptable loss of facilities, and with many added social benefits.
We have an economy in which domestic property has become a speculative asset class, often used by ‘respectable’ investment funds, although one of the UN-recognised Human Rights is to a safe and secure home. So we need to re-consider the way we own property, to check that we do not ourselves sow the seeds of injustice.'
What is Cohousing?
The UK Cohousing Network defines cohousing as:
‘A type of intentional community, composed of self-contained homes supplemented by shared facilities. The community is planned and managed by residents.’
Physically, there are 10 - 40 households each with their own private dwelling grouped around and sharing jointly-owned and operated facilities such as guest rooms, a car-pool, gardens and play areas, a common house, tool shed, laundry, food-co-op; perhaps also offices or workspaces. The co-housing group owns the property, and residents may purchase their home leasehold, part-purchase and part rent, or wholly rented. All residents pay a site charge for the facilities they share.
Socially, decision-making is by consensus. Residents come together to manage their community, to share activities, and regularly eat together.
Cohousing communities can be inter-generational, welcoming anyone of any age and any family structure, or they can be formed specifically by and for people who are older, or by people with a common interest, for example for women, or LGBT groups, or Quakers.
Cohousing communities are formed based on a set of five primary principles:
Designed to support certain agreed values;
Strike a balance between privacy and community;
Sized to support an easy community dynamic of between 10 - 40 households, most typically 20 - 35;
Have a legal structure and decision-making process that means residents control and steward the co-housing; and
Are inclusive and part of the wider community.
Cohousing is a way of resolving the isolation many people experience today, recreating the neighbourly support of the past. This can happen anywhere, in your street or starting a new community using empty homes or building new.
This is where it links to:
Transition is a movement of communities coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world….about communities stepping up to address the big challenges they face by starting local. …they are reclaiming the economy, sparking entrepreneurship, reimagining work, reskilling themselves and weaving webs of connection and support. It’s an approach that has spread now to over 50 countries, in thousands of groups: in towns, villages, cities, Universities, schools.
Unless we can maintain and increase quality of life for significant numbers of people where they are now, it is unlikely that people will be ready to reduce quantity of stuff.
In several regions of the UK, we have many homes dating from the 19C that are still sound but energy-inefficient. Where these are in terraces, there is often limited space to extend or to have the guest room, utility room, home office etc that many of us would like. But working with neighbours, it might be possible to buy and convert a redundant chapel or industrial building to provide these facilities. Using all the buildings, it might be possible to install renewable energy generation; mutual. Living costs can be reduced and heath improved if we are not each struggling to run a car, but join a carpool. Agreeing to ‘Tear-down-the-fences’ allows playgrounds and vegetable gardens.
This kind of mutual sharing of outside space is commonplace in mainland Europe and some part of Canada and USA. Cohousing is widespread, particularly in Scandinavia.
What I would like to do next would be to hold further public meetings, and see if there are enough people interested to begin to develop one or more projects in my home region of North West Wales.
In November 2016, I gave a lecture at Bangor University to highlight the particular problems here in Gwynedd.