Cohousing is still a relatively new concept to me. It seems funny to think that a few months ago I would have had no idea what it was all about, yet now I see it as something that's important. As part of my research into what houses we should be building in the 21st century I am becoming more and more aware that a lot of solutions already exist to some of our most pressing problems. It is getting these solutions into the mainstream that seems to be where we struggle.
Cohousing is nothing new. Its origins date back to Denmark in the 1960s where young families were looking into sharing resources, particularly when it came to childminding.
Nearly 50 years later and cohousing developments have sprung up all around the world, but I would argue that their time is still to come.
I was recently lucky enough to visit the award-winning Lancaster Cohousing project, which brings together cohousing and Passivhaus.
Seeing what it's all about first hand has really crystallised in my mind 6 key reasons why cohousing is going to grow.
1. There's a Greater Sense of Community
Yes, this is obvious as cohousing is about designing houses which stimulate spontaneous interaction amongst those that live there. However, I do think community is something the majority of us desire, even if we don't realise it's missing.
I live on a dead-end street where we do have a good sense of community but this only really came about after we had a street party! Perhaps before that we always had a sense of who lived down the street. Now, we know.
In a cohousing development, the community is much more intentional. The individual also can get involved to a greater or less degree, depending on what that person wants.
We all value safety. Of course there's no out and out guarantee that a neighbourhood is safe, but knowing who is around you and keeping an eye out for your neighbours is better than any burglar alarm. I got a sense of this at Lancaster Cohousing – it was very obvious that I was an unfamiliar face! More than one member of the group asked if I needed help. Hopefully I don't look too dodgy?
As these communities are not materialistic there is less property of material worth anyway.
3. It Adds up Financially
In today's tough economic climate our finances may not stretch as far as we would like. One way we can ease that burden is to share resources and that is at the heart of a cohousing development. The houses themselves often have a much smaller floor area because there are communal facilities including a village hall, guest bedrooms, a laundry room, etc. Also, parents can take it in turns to look after each others' kids.
4. The Homes Tend to be Built to a Higher Standard
Although not all cohousing schemes meet the rigorous Passivhaus standard, cohousing projects often focus on energy efficiency and sustainability. As such you are not only saving money but also reaching higher levels of comfort in many cases, too.
Lancaster Cohousing – photo by Tanisha Raffiuddin
5. Cohousers Can Claw Back Some Time!
Due to the factors above – saving money, having that community support, etc. – there is a chance to free up some time. In our increasingly busy world time is more and more precious and so this should not be overlooked.
6. There's a Sense of Pride in Realising a Cohousing Development
Nobody said this would be easy. As with any project there will be challenges to overcome but when the hard work is behind you, there is a real sense of satisfaction over what has been achieved, and rightly so. This buy-in has an on-going role in keeping the community bonded and the neighbourhood well maintained.
With relatively few cohousing schemes around the world and a growing interest, it's almost a given that cohousing will continue to grow. If Denmark's experience is anything to go by, then considerable growth could lie ahead.
In episode 28 of the House Planning Help Podcast I spoke to Mark Westcombe, one of the founders of Lancaster Cohousing. He has many fascinating stories about their journey but one aspect that caught my attention was that people have travelled from all over the UK to live like this, some drawn to the cohousing lifestyle, some wanting to live in a Passivhaus. Bringing these two concepts together is an amazing achievement and I daresay it will become a lot more commonplace.