Community living, co-operative living: why do some choose this way of life and could it be for you?
October 25, 2018
Community living, communes and hippie camps
As part of this blog, I have been exploring different ways to live an alternative lifestyle. I began with Canal boat living then last week I wrote about Motorhome living. Today I want to explore a completely different way of living and that is community or co-op living.
This way of life is certainly not for everyone, for some, it would be their idea of hell but for others, it would be their idea of total and perfect heaven.
Above: Young musicians living in a shared community in Amsterdam
“A commune (the French word appearing in the 12th century from Medieval Latin communia, meaning a large gathering of people sharing a common life; from Latin communis, things held in common) is an intentional community of people living together, sharing common interests, often having common values and beliefs, as well as shared property, possessions, resources, and, in some communes, work, income or assets.”
“In addition to the communal economy, consensus decision-making, non-hierarchical structures and ecological living have become important core principles for many communes. There are many contemporary intentional communities all over the world, a list of which can be found at the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC). Source Wikipedia
Europe’s Historical Role in Housing Cooperatives
“The cooperative housing movement began in Europe in the 19th century, primarily in Great Britain and France, as a means to provide affordable housing for persons whose other choices might be rental of a tenement flat from a landlord that controlled the premises much like a king controls his kingdom. Cooperatives also provided a solution to housing shortages that arose when industrial development attracted people into the cities and targeted as working-class families who could not afford to purchase a home. They offered sound shelter at affordable prices relying on self-help efforts of members to reduce costs.”
Co-operative living became especially popular during the time of the hippie movement in America in the 1960s.
At this time in my life, I am very attracted to the idea of living as part of a new age community somewhere in a beautiful part of the British countryside. Living with like-minded people, living off the land, cooking together, socialising together. Looking after livestock and exploring spirituality and creativity, whilst at the same time looking out for each other.
A great website for finding places in these communities is the Diggers and Dreamers website:
Here is a typical advert:
The surrounding 21 acres of organic land is managed primarily for nature conservation. There is a large parkland running down to Henmore Brook with a moat (an English Heritage scheduled ancient monument) and other small pastures (grazed with a local organic farmer’s sheep and cows). There is a secluded woodland with a tree circle, a community orchard and allotments with vegetables, fruit and herbs. There is a willow labyrinth and dome, a composting toilet and solar shower dome.
Members of the community own 900+ year leases on the 8 individual homes and each home has private use of a small garden. We set up in 1997 around principles of natural parenting and home-education. We aim for a diverse group of people of a variety of ages, including singles, couples and families with children, with home-owning members as well as tenants and non-member lodgers. Most people are employed off-site but some are based from home. We have the advantage of being able to enjoy our independent lives with privacy when we want it, whilst also living within a mutually supportive and sociable community.
We have community work days and business meetings once a month and occasional ‘sharing’ meetings. Important decisions are taken by consensus and general management is carried out by land, maintenance, finance and administration teams. We have a minimum co-op work requirement for every resident with an expectation of everyone doing a fair share and we understand that nothing gets done unless we all contribute. We expect people to participate regularly in co-op meetings but they are not compulsory.
We are not open to the public but offer guided walks and workshops for groups of 6 people or more. We also host and run various camps during the spring and summer and are happy to consider hosting new groups for camps.
Opportunities arise from time to time to buy, rent or lodge here. If you are interested in visiting with a view to going on our waiting list, do email us for further details.
There are currently two properties for sale and a room to rent, see “Places Needing Members”.
5 Reasons To Consider Joining A Cohousing Community
“Just as a home is more than its walls and windows, cohousing homes are more than standard condos. To the people who create, join and live cohousing communities, they join an active and involved community of neighbours who know and care about each other and together live more consciously of one another and the earth. Cohousing has grown over the past 25 years to over 160 communities nationwide and the communities range from urban, suburban, or rural; new construction or repurposed; senior-specific or intergenerational. Successful communities generally share 5 key characteristics that may tempt you to consider a cohousing community for your next move.”
1. FOCUS ON SUSTAINABILITY
“A core value of cohousing is environmental sustainability. This is reflected in preserved open space, in utilizing green building materials and techniques, minimizing the intrusion of cars, and the prevalence of community renewable energy systems. The sense of community created in these neighbourhoods is the secret ingredient of sustainability, enabling people to have a collective impact, being good stewards together with their neighbours. Such a lively neighbourhood means residents can socialize close to home, and parents can reduce the endless back-and-forth of shuttling their kids to playdates.”
2. FACES NOT FENCES
“Cohousing communities are recognized by certain design features, layered over a strong social fabric. A big benefit of cohousing stems from the sharing culture bolstered by generous common amenities. Cohousing features a common house (the heart of the community, with a large kitchen, dining area, guest rooms and more), and perhaps a shared garden, workshop, yoga room, pool or kids room. Communities are generally 20-40 homes, designed and self-managed by residents. The result is people-focused, with cars kept on the periphery and buildings grouped to leave green space for all to enjoy.”
“Financing is undertaken by future residents, who act as “owner-developers” and provide the capital to fund the design costs and property purchase. Yet there’s nothing to fear when it comes to acquiring loans; in fact, Fannie Mae has language in its FAQ’s specifying that cohousing homes qualify for loans just as any other condominium development would. The project is built by means of a bank construction loan, paid off as individual residents obtain mortgages. Since residents buy-in to their neighbourhood early on, turnover tends to be low.”
4) TRUE NEIGHBORLINESS
“Ever been ready to bake a cake and realized you’re one stick of butter short, meaning a 20-minute drive to the store? In cohousing, your neighbour will probably have both butter and some baking advice. Cohousing is carefully designed to create a socially rich and interconnected community, a true “neighbourhood” in the old-fashioned sense of the word. However, residents do not have a shared economy or a common set of beliefs. Individual homes have all the traditional amenities including private kitchens, yet most communities are proud to offer resident-cooked dinner rotations in the common house several times a week.”
5) SAFE AND SECURE
“Eyes on the Street” are the best security system you can have. Living in a community where everyone is a familiar face provides an extra layer of safety. Children can run freely and knock on their playmates’ doors, gaining a unique level of independence and trust with neighbours. Even in large cities, cohousing experiences little crime and offers safe and supportive living.
If you are interested in finding a community to join or launching a new one you can visit www.cohousing.org (if you live in the U.S or for the UK there is the Diggers and Dreamers website, Europe has many similar websites too.)for a wealth of resources, including a map of both established communities and in-process groups. For a comprehensive overview, refer to books by the parents of U.S. cohousing, Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett: Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities and The Senior Cohousing Handbook. If you are a California resident, Fair Oaks EcoHousing is welcoming new members and will be the next to break ground in the Golden State.
Cheers to more sustainable, socially-thriving communities for all!”
Here are some stories of people who live in these communities and I hope they give you a good idea of what community living is all about and whether it is something you would ever consider.
Totally together: could communal living suit you?
From self-sufficient communes to cohousing schemes, people are opting for a shared lifestyle
Sat 3 Feb 2018
Devaraj Sandberg at the Osho Leela centre in Gillingham, Dorset. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt for the Guardian
“Every Wednesday morning, Devaraj Sandberg and the rest of the community at Osho Leela, a spiritual commune in Dorset, gather together for a group meditation session involving shouting, screaming and rounds of hugging.
“It keeps people a bit sane,” says Sandberg, 56, who has called Osho Leela his home for 16 years. “Living in a community with a lot of similar people can cause emotional stuff like disagreements, so the way we get around it is quite therapeutic.”
Sandberg, a therapist, lives with 14 other long-term residents at Osho Leela in Gillingham, which describes itself as a “personal development centre” and was founded in 1996. However, as part of a community experience programme, the site regularly welcomes external guests, with prices starting from £7 a night to share a dormitory.
While short-term dwellers have to pay to stay at Osho Leela, long-term residents don’t have to pay to live there; rather, the core group members take on roles within the community – for instance, Sandberg also works as a maintenance manager – and each receives between £150 to £450 a month from the income Osho Leela makes.
With regular communal meals and weekly meetings, Sandberg says the close-knit community at Osho Leela attracts a certain type of person. “It suits people who want to change, and those who want to be among people,” he adds. “A lot of the people [at Osho Leela] have gone through life, got married and had kids, and are just not happy with life. Then they turn to something like this.”
As research shows that loneliness and social isolation is spreading across the UK, and as rising costs continue to squeeze households, more communities built on a shared ethos and a supportive neighbourly unit are sprouting up. Models vary from living off the grid, such as self-sufficient commune/village Tipi Valley in the heart of Carmarthenshire in Wales, to “cohousing” schemes: a model centred on communities with private homes but where people chip in together to pay for shared communal facilities.
Meanwhile, a number of housing cooperatives have been set up across the UK, where a group of like-minded people come together to buy a property – something they would never be able to do individually. Guardian Money has previously featured the Drive Housing Cooperative, an 11-bedroom “intentional community” based in a former children’s home in Walthamstow, north-east London, which celebrated its sixth birthday last summer.
“The number of people interested in communal living has slowly grown,” says Chris Coates, an editor at Diggers & Dreamers, a website offering information about alternative living. “There’s a much wider definition of what communal living entails these days and a wider range of people who are doing it than there were in the 1970s.”
Coates, 60, is himself a commune veteran after spending more than 40 years in such set-ups, starting with squatting in London after he left school. In 2012, Coates and 14 others set up not-for-profit eco cohousing development Forgebank, located just outside Lancaster, with each member putting down a deposit to create a community of 15 houses on a plot of land.”
Above: Residents in the ‘common room’ at Forgebank.
“Now expanded to 41 homes, every month each household pays their rent or mortgage, as well as a service charge which covers community facilities such as running a cooperative food store. With a central set of postboxes to collect post and shared laundry facilities, Forgebank is designed to maximise social interaction. “This means you can bump into three people every time you leave your house,” says Coates, a part-time caretaker at Forgebank. “At least half the people here are attracted to the green ideas, while the other half are looking for community, for a way to socialise with other people.”
However, he says it is not a utopia. “There can be arguments, but the reason people want to do cohousing is that it’s a hybrid of a big community without living on top of each other. If you don’t get on with someone, it’s not a big deal. It’s flexible enough.”
Such communities are not just designed to increase social interactions. Lilac (the Low Impact Living Affordable Community) in Leeds was set up to be a low-cost alternative to the existing property market, with the 20 eco-friendly homes forming part of a new financial model called the “Mutual Home Ownership Society”, which sees residents pay about 35% of their net income each month to the cooperative, plus a monthly service charge that covers shared utilities.
Max Folkett, 36, has lived in a two-bedroom flat at Lilac with his partner Beth Oxley, a GP, since 2013. Folkett describes the set-up as “halfway between renting and buying”. He adds: “Lilac was developed as a result of the broken housing market. It was deliberately made to be affordable. I’m paying less than I was when I was renting before moving in, especially in utility bills, as it was made using straw bales, so it’s very well insulated. Our gas and electricity costs come to about £200 a year.”
With 19 lived-in cohousing schemes across the country, and a further 35 active groups expecting to deliver new additional housing in the next four years, interest in communal living is building.
“It is definitely an increasing movement – in the past couple of years our membership has tripled,” says Anna Kear, executive director at UK Cohousing Network, which supports the development of communities. “Unlike the mainstream housing market, cohousing is about communities being in control. What’s interesting is how diverse the interest in community-led housing and cohousing can be. This demand for something different reflects the potential for an alternative to the normal approach to supply-led housing.”
However, community housing is not for the faint-hearted. While Osho Leela attracts hundreds of newcomers every year, Sandberg says most guests leave after their weekly community programme. “It can be intense living here,” he adds. “You have to be ready for a self-awareness journey.”
Explore the alternatives
If you are interested in communal living, it’s worth visiting a handful of set-ups that appeal to you, advises Chris Coates, also co-author of Diggers & Dreamers: the Guide to Communal Living.
“Don’t assume that the first place you go to will be like the second place,” he says. “Communal living can vary from a housing cooperative to an organic farm in the sticks.”
However, he says many seem to have adopted a similar look. “I did a tour of about seven communities with a friend and I noticed they all had many of the same things, such as a trampoline, a notice board, a huge coat rack and a row of wellies. Many have a lot in common, but the financial set-up might be different. There’s plenty of places where you can just rent if you want – you don’t need to buy.”
Come together: Could communal living be the solution to our housing crisis?
Sarah Morrison visits five of the country’s ‘alternative’ co-habitational projects to find out
- Sunday 13 November 2011 01:00
Rainbow Co-operative, Milton Keynes: The street was taken over by a group of university academics in the 1970s, and in 1992 the tenant-run co-operative bought it from Milton Keynes Development Corporation for £10,000 under the Right to Buy scheme.
“With home ownership in decline, rents rising rapidly and social housing waiting lists at a record high, it’s time to face up to the fact that we have a totally dysfunctional housing market,” said David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, earlier this year. With warnings of an “unprecedented crisis” in housing to follow and a predicted downturn in ownership to a level not seen since the 1980s, the long-held belief in bricks and mortar has slowly started to crumble.
“Getting something set up in this country is chronic. There are major challenges when it comes to finding land and the sheer expense of it. The huge barrier is the lack of familiarity of the housing sector and local authorities with the notion of co-housing,” she says, before adding that in the Netherlands, there are 200 senior co-housing communities.
Scandinavia may be years ahead in matters of co-habitation, but residents here are nothing if not ambitious – meaning the idea of communal living is no longer just a retreat from the pressures of modern-day life, but, increasingly, a way to confront and overcome some of its failings.”
Rainbow co-operative, Housing Co-operative, rental 41 residents
“Sitting around a kitchen table in one of the 24 terraced houses in Rainbow Co-operative, Milton Keynes (or “the street” as it is fondly known), are half-a-dozen of its biggest fans. As the biscuits are shared out, Annie Bradstock, 58, describes how it can take an hour to get from one end of the road to the other because of all the tea she is offered.
The street was taken over by a group of university academics in the 1970s, and in 1992 the tenant-run co-operative bought it from Milton Keynes Development Corporation for £10,000 under the Right to Buy scheme. Its 27 residents, ranging from young parents to pensioners in their seventies, paid £1 to move into their houses and pay a monthly rent to the co-operative: just over £300 for a four-bedroom house.
The houses were originally homes for local railway workers; today, the residents are proud to be a mix of working- and middle-class people. No one owns their property directly and any prospective tenants must sell any housing they own before they move in, reinforcing the co-op’s concern with providing places for people to live, rather than self-enrichment. One of the houses is used as a communal space, equipped with a kitchen for monthly breakfasts, a workshop and an office.
While the average age of tenants is 50, they insist they don’t want it to end up as an “OAP place” and a family in their twenties has just moved in with their four-year-old son. Long-time resident Tracey Walters, 67, says that if it was “more sandals and lentils when people started the street, it is now definitely more beefburger and boots”.
For more: rainbowhousingcoop.org.uk
Brithdir Mawr Intentional Community, Five permanent members 11 current residents
“The first thing you notice as you walk into the huge farmhouse that acts as the focal point of the Brithdir Mawr community is the battery meter hanging from the door. It compares the electric units coming into the farm each hour from its renewable-energy sources to the amount the household consumes, and reminds the residents, aged from 18 months to 61 years, that life on the 180-acre farm is not just one of ease.
Sitting in a valley on the west coast of Wales, at the foot of Mount Carningli, Brithdir Mawr is determinedly off the electrical grid. Residents generate their own energy through wind, hydro and solar power, they have no fridge and when there is no wind, they cannot use their washing machine. Set up in 1994 when Julian and Emma Orbach bought the property, it is now home to five full-time residents and a handful of volunteers and potential new members, embarking on the first stage of the year-long initiation process.
The community, which focuses on sustainable living, cannot remember a time when the farm was so full. Each resident works 18 hours a week on community activities – from milking the goats to collecting wood – and most work part-time jobs outside the farm to earn the £210 a month they each pay to the co-op in rent.
Brithdir Mawr’s oldest member, Tony Haigh, defines the community as a “commune” and says it is a full-time job to run the farm. While horses and carts are used to transport wood, there are modern conveniences such as laptops and TVs. “We’re trying to live in a way people can carry on living in, without depleting the world’s resources,” Haigh explains. “We are not going backwards, just in a different direction.”
There are half-a-dozen long-term volunteers, most under 30. Pete and Tess Greenway, in their mid-to-late twenties, arrived a few weeks ago with their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ffion, and are considering making it their new home. “We were hardly able to pay rent before,” says Tess. “Raising a child in a community makes sense; we want Ffion to grow up with positive things around her. She’ll learn a lot without realising it.”
Springhill, Co-housing community, 18 residents
“A car-free sign marks the entry into Springhill, in Stroud, Gloucestershire, the UK’s first co-housing project built from scratch. Eighty people, mostly families, live among the 35 timber houses and flats, insulated with recycled newspapers, to keep down the heating bills. With solar panels on every roof, the eight-year-old community is the epitome of eco-chic and comfortable community living in the 21st century.
But the communal fitted-out kitchen, large garden with a multi-storey tree house and chickens resting by the compost come at a price; one set of owners is currently selling their house for £400,000.
The founder of the community, David Michael, who bought the land and built the houses, spent £6m on the project. Originally choosing to sell the houses at cost-value, Michael says he made a loss on completion of his project; he moved into the community with his wife and two daughters when it was finished.
Michael acknowledges that Springhill “isn’t very radical”; he based the properties on the Danish model of co-housing and all residents had to sign up to principles, including communal cooking and meetings before they bought. Organic vegetarian meals are served three times a week, which residents take it in turns to cook. The shared kitchen is viewed as a “communal extension to their living-room” and there is also a shared table-tennis table, pool table and “village green”.
Residents pay a surcharge of £10 to £58 a month, depending on their property’s size, for maintenance and the cost of the common space, but as they are directors of the freehold company, they can sell their property for a profit to whom they wish.
Sarah Lunnon, 46, moved from a terraced house in Wales to Springhill with her partner and three children eight years ago, paying £100,000 for her property. She says the move was not an “overtly political decision. If I need anything, from a fuse to someone to step in to look after the children, I know I can call on my immediate neighbours for help,” she says. “And it means I don’t have to cook every night.”
For more: therightplace.net/coco/public
Banches, Housing Co-operative, rental, 6 residents
“Dodgy landlords, leaking roofs, ever-increasing rent and isolated lives. Sound familiar? It did to us…” Thus starts the online description of Branches, the young persons’ co-operative set up in Bradford in 2007 by eight people fed up with the state of housing. Four years and dozens of residents later, the project currently has six young tenants in their first co-operatively rented house.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, 25, from Sussex, a student at the University of Bradford and an original member of the co-operative, says that they hoped to provide a “safety net” for young people when they set up the co-operative. Members pay an average of £40 rent a week to the landlord and £15 to cover communal activities, some of which goes towards a savings fund, out of which they hope to purchase their own house in the coming months. They currently have a few thousand pounds saved.
“We felt there were other co-operatives for older people, but we needed one for young people,” says Russell-Moyle. “The biggest problem facing them today is property – it is so hard to get into it. They can’t get a mortgage from banks, but the co-operative can. It is easier with the collective power and a business plan.”
As a paid-up member of Radical Routes – an umbrella of co-operatives committed to radical social change – Branches is hoping to receive a loan from the network to help them secure the mortgage on their prospective house. Then, once the co-operative has bought the property, tenants will pay a rent to cover the mortgage and the daily running of the house.
For newest resident Michael Chater, 23, from Lincolnshire, the biggest attraction to moving into a co-operative is “having more autonomy. Living in rented accommodation starts to wear you down and this way I am not tied down to a mortgage.” Russell-Moyle adds that co-operative living chimes with the Government’s call for young entrepreneurs. “This is the front line of entrepreneurial skills,” he says. “I have already got my head around spreadsheets and rent models.”
For more: radicalroutes.org.uk/list-of-members/housing-co-ops/branches.html
Co-Flats Stroud, Co-housing community, 18 residents
“On a terraced street, walking distance from Stroud’s town centre, sit the UK’s first new-build “co-flats”. Eighteen people in eight single-owner-occupied flats and six rentals live inside a converted Unitarian church, complete witha roof-top wind turbine. Set up in 2006 by co-housing developer David Michael, they are, in his words, a “tighter” version of their sister co-housing project, Springhill. Flats, which sell from £75,000 to £185,000, are each equipped with their own kitchen, lounge and balcony, but also come with communal facilities, including a car-share club, kitchen and laundry room.
Residents sign up to co-housing principles, meaning they agree to carry out collective chores and contribute £140 a year to the car scheme, even if they cannot drive. They also pay a monthly fee of £25 a month to cover building insurance, maintenance and repair, and heating and lighting for the shared areas.
Peter Williams, 62, bought his flat for £92,000 four years ago. He took up Michael’s offer of a 20 per cent, interest-free mortgage and paid £73,600. Having never lived in a co-housing model before, he describes the arrangement as “jolly versatile”, but wishes, if anything, it were more communal.
“I like the principle of helping other people and we are all very fond of each other here,” he says, before adding that he is dating a resident across the hall. “I take out her rubbish and she reminds me to take out mine. She even paid one of the other tenant’s big debts when he forgot to. The biggest problem we have here is petty: it’s the collection of laundry money.”
I think for the right kind of people this is something that works and it’s definitely something I feel drawn to.
Next time: Whirl-Y-gig