At the start of the month Cohousing was a term that very few people knew and recognised, but on 3 February there was a media frenzy over the 25 women who form OWCH – Older Women’s Cohousing in Barnet (pictured right).
They were on the sofa with BBC Breakfast TV, as well as on the radio with Vanessa Feltz and Radio 4’s PM with Eddie Mair. The response to these media appearances has been phenomenal with women from all over the world sending congratulatory emails and offering their admiration and support of the group.
Altair is proud to be offering development support to Housing for Women who will be responsible for 8 flats for social rent on the site, as well as managing the scheme on behalf of OWCH.
But what is Cohousing? In a nutshell it is an intentional community, where people choose to live together in a community ready to sign up to the values of that group. OWCH is made up of women over 55 but there is no reason why they cannot be inter-generational or family focussed. In Denmark and Holland the model has been around for nearly 30 years – usually for older people who wish to live in a community to avoid isolation, depression and being a burden on local services.
One question that journalists returned to repeatedly last week was, ‘Why has it taken more than ten years to get to the scheme being near completion?’ As someone who has worked with the women for those ten years, I have seen the pitfalls and hurdles the group have had to overcome to achieve success. I have also got a long list of the housing associations and local authorities that we met together, along with an understanding of the reasons why previous projects stalled.
Often there was a real lack of vision from the local authorities who could appreciate the value of the scheme but had their hands tied by the priority needs of homeless families and nothing else. Others were concerned that the group would be parachuting into their borough and acting as a drain on their social and adult services.
Today with the expense of extra care schemes and the lack of popularity of sheltered housing, this innovative way of living offers a truly viable approach to retaining control of your life in later years through living with like-minded people who are committed to being good neighbours and offering friendship and support. It therefore represents a benefit to society rather than a cost.
Now that the lessons have been learnt on this pioneering scheme it seems a real opportunity for housing associations to facilitate further developments along these lines – either as a stand alone scheme or as part of a larger regeneration project.