Completed in 2012, the New Ground Cohousing in Barnet, North London, is a purpose-built block of 25 flats created by a group of women that are all between 50-90 years of age. They formed a housing cooperative called the Older Women's Cohousing group (OWCH) to manage the project. Their brief was to have their own sustainable homes, with shared facilities that create a sense of community. New Ground has been built on a not-for-profit basis, based on the needs of the residents themselves resulting in a much more genuine sense of quality and permanence.
The flats have one to three bedrooms with 17 owned and 8 rented. There are 11 one-bed flats, 11 two-bed flats and three three-bed flats.
"The heart of the new development is a shared garden, designed by the women of OWCH, which forms the main outlook for twenty one of the twenty five new homes. This new garden in accessed directly from the public entrance in Union Street, and overlooked by a large common room, and smaller guest flat come quiet meeting room. The majority of the flats are accessed via a sociable rear courtyard, where laundry, drying space and planted car-parking places will ensure constant activity for the outlook of the remaining four flats. All flats have a private terrace or balcony." (1)
The women involved in OWCH and their families benefit by having good quality housing with collective support. Adult social care budgets will also benefit by enabling older people to live independently, or with less external support, for longer.
What are the risks and challenges for initiating and also maintaining this initiative?
They had to overcome many hurdles to complete the project. OWCH encountered opposition at every level before the planning application was given the go-ahead. It took 18 years to secure a housing association partner and a site and by this time many of the original group had left the project. Also, Barnet Adult Social Care needed to be persuaded that OWCH would be a valuable investment by reducing rather than adding to the burden on adult social care. (1)
According to the group, "The senior cohousing community could enrich the last years of many, and reduce pressures on health and care services, if local authorities, planners, policy makers and housing developers helped to remove the many obstacles society puts in its way." (2)