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18/03/2021

How cohousing can help the housing secretary solve a planning problem

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Community housing, cohousing, custom build - bespoke schemes built by and for groups of people working and living together have the potential to help the governmetn meet its aspirational standards for beauty, quality and design, argues Owen Jarvis

Robert Jenrick has announced that all new developments must meet local standards for beauty, quality and design. Communities are to be placed at the heart of plans for beautiful, well-designed neighbourhoods. Many housing professionals and communities may be left wondering how we start turning aspirations into reality. For inspiration, there is the UK’s growing cohousing movement, where designing for quality of life is central.

Cohousing schemes are resident-led, intentional communities of private homes with shared facilities such as a common house, laundry, gardens and allotments. Cohousing started in Denmark in the 1960s as a response to the isolation in modern city life. Today, nearly 4 per cent of Denmark’s population lives in collaborative forms of housing. In the US there are more than 165 schemes. We now have 60 at various stages of development across the UK.

Cohousing has design principles but is a flexible idea as applicable to new-builds as it is to repurposed mansions, schools and hospitals. Some communities feature downsizers seeking a better life in retirement, others are intergenerational. Some are being set up by vulnerable groups seeking collective support. Cohousing can include home ownership, renting, affordable or market housing.

“Cohousing schemes are resident-led, intentional communities of 20 to 40 private homes”

Building social experiences into both the development process and neighbourhood life creates trust and social capital. More formal activities include developing values statements, taking decisions on designs, finances, housing management.

A team from the London School of Economics, funded by MHCLG, is measuring the benefits of community housing, especially cohousing, on promoting wellbeing and reducing loneliness. The results are positive so far.

Local authorities can make land for custom and self-build projects open to collective community proposals and consider cohousing groups when public assets are available for development. Larger developers might make space for collaborative neighbourhoods or embrace social design processes from an early stage. Policymakers concerned with better housing models for older age might enquire further.

With the government’s recent announcement that £4 million of revenue funding and access to affordable housing capital pots is available for community-led housing groups, 2021 feels like a good time to take action.

Owen Jarvis is chief executive of the UK Cohousing Network

Image credit | iStock

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