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Tuesday, March 15, 2005
  Thinking about CoHousing

I’ve been living on my own a long time. Longer than I ever meant to. I think a lot about the alternatives, which is what brought me, a year or so ago, to join a CoHousing group. Since then I’ve learned a huge amount about sustainable building materials and techniques, about UK legal, planning and financial norms, about developing and sustaining viable groups.

There’s a new British book on the subject, Thinking About CoHousing. It’s a good title, since in this country we’re mostly still at the stage of thinking about it. Just two groups of brave and persistent (and fairly affluent) CoHousers have built and occupied their communities.

The points made a few years ago by a resident of one of these, the Community Project near Lewes, Sussex, are all still valid. Since then, though, interest and knowledge have grown enormously. The first National Conference of the UK CoHousing Network, held at the end of February, drew nearly 100 enthusiasts: architects, solicitors, financiers, town planners and representatives of a dozen or so CoHousing planning groups from different parts of England, Scotland and Wales - some small groups and others, like this one with really ambitious plans. A participant describes the conference here.

As I noted right afterwards, it was a friendly, positive, but somewhat overwhelming event and, having heard from so many experts, I came away both wanting this even more and feeling even more daunted by the size of the task. Wanting a home where I know (and work with and eat with and share with) my neighbours almost more than anything, but not wanting to devote perhaps half of my time for the next four or five years to battling the prevailing UK planning, building and financial practices and expectations. And unless a good few people devote that much time and energy I don’t think it’s going to happen here on a wider and spreading scale.

What keeps me interested no matter what is reading things like this.

I’m proud of my ability to live alone, to be good company for myself. Happy that I’m happy to do most things on my own, unafraid to travel the world alone, to walk alone in the remotest countryside and late at night in the city. It’s a good thing for everyone sufficiently able-bodied to strive for self-reliance when required, I think. Only then do we truly appreciate company, are we truly good, strong, true companions. I believe, too, in mutual reliance, mutual support, but I think this only works when it’s freely chosen, when we have another choice.

So, yes, I’m glad of my hard-won ability to fend for myself. But I never meant it to become my whole way of life. Never meant to eat so many solitary meals, to close my front door so many times on just myself. Before I knew it, it became the norm – my norm and increasingly society’s. 20, 25 per cent of adults in the UK live alone, and that figure is increasing fast. Especially women, since we tend to live longer, ending up alone sooner or later anyway.

Is all this really inevitable? Really the only way? More and more of us at home in our single-person boxes? More and more of us taking our holidays alone, all our holidays, by choice? No, I don’t believe that, and I shall keep pursuing an alternative. When I first mentioned the CoHousing Conference here, I was startled to get an almost instant comment from one of the editors of the US CoHousing Magazine. This really gave me the feeling that we’re out there, a growing international network of people who want something different.

When I was young I lived on a Kibbutz (communal settlement in Israel) for a year. I have always dreamed of being mature enough to create a viable commune. Co-housing sounds like an ideal alternative.
I'm glad my comment was helpful! (and please pardon the startling, I'll try to knock first next time ;-) ). I'm always watching the Coho/US web logs to see where people are coming from, so I came over and found your blog, alongside other UK Cohousing conference coverage, and we're planning to write about it in Cohousing magazine as well as in the Cohousing issue of Communities magazine.
Jean, I'd be interested to hear more details about this project. I too am used to and have chosen the solo life and, in most ways, prefer it. But it would be nice to have the option of being in a congenial community, as long as I could retain my privacy and independence. I'm not really a joiner of groups but on the other hand, as time passes, one wonders....
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