This meeting to engage new prospective members was held in Kings Heath Community Centre. A number of questions were discussed in small groups and shared with the whole meeting. Many thanks to everyone who took part, and especially to Sue Coomber and Stuart Martin for pulling together the notes from the groups.
What is Cohousing?
Cohousing is intentional living, community with a shared ethos. Something between a commune and independent living. Commitment to caring for others in the scheme. Desire not to live in isolation. Living in a safer place. A sense of freedom. Community type housing, where residents would have their own accommodation, along with some shared facilities and support.
Residents could be of mixed ages, including children. Cohousing could possibly involve Housing Associations.
Living with and getting to know other people, avoiding isolation. Friendship and community. Support for living needs and more generally. Long-term security, particularly security of housing. A pet-friendly place.
Sharing: responsibility for pets; activities – e.g. parties, games etc.; interests and skills; resources (like a great coffee machine!).
Well built, modern sustainable housing, more environmentally friendly. Communal food production would be a possibility.
What obstacles might there be, and how could we overcome them?
It’s good to note that some things that are initially obstacles become strengths once they have been managed. E.g. agreeing an ethos will take some work. But once done, the common ethos will help to sustain the community.
Planning. Decision making in groups – carrying people forward. How to move past differences. Making sure everybody is involved. Agreeing structures and plans, then managing those structures and plans. Keeping people inspired, sustaining interest – momentum. Sustaining a commitment to seeing the idea through. Members having enough time and energy to be involved.
Finding and agreeing the right site. Agreeing the overall size and the size and number of units.
Finding banking and finance. Sorting out the financial implications for individuals.
Help in overcoming obstacles
Official bodies such as Birmingham City Council, who are required to give support to self-build groups. Networking with established non-governmental groups – e.g. Cohousing UK, Diggers and Dreamers, other specific housing projects.
Having a large group, with a shared ethos/vision. Being able to use the skills and knowledge of people in the group.
Having a communal mortgage with e.g. Ecology Building Society.
What is your ideal model for our cohousing community?
Nice people. A mixed range of ages, race, gender, sexuality and abilities. Sympathetic to cat (and dog) lovers. Equality for all. Everybody has input into the design. Regular community meetings.
The project should be sustainable/ green – making use of wind, solar energy etc.
Integration with the wider community. Parks, river and green spaces within reach.
Should be both a living and a working facility.
Individuals/ families to have their own front door. Residential to include different types of ownership (tenure). Housing is designed with accessibility and adaptability in mind. Accessibility to all facilities. Short term emergency accommodation, and visitor / guest accommodation.
Living space for parties, community activities – a ‘village hall’. A play space. A sauna, steam room. Billiards/snooker.
Work space to include laundry, workshop, art/dance studio, IT. Work hub. Space for bikes and maintenance. Communal garden, allotment, shed, animals. A car pool.
What activities, social and practical, should we pursue?
Work meetings: Talks on process – e.g. on decision-making (consensus v majority); Meeting to create a timeline to work to, with dates and milestones. Project management meetings to advance the project, and give a sense of progress. Research and planning particular aspects of the scheme, e.g. general finance and how to finance the scheme.
Social events: Bring and share meal. Games evening. Book groups. Discussion groups. Days out. Walks. Events to share knowledge, such as general building knowledge; making stuff – DIY and craft workshops.
Visits to other cohousing projects – e.g., Still Green; having speakers from e.g. Leeds (LILAC) re working with the council, housing, housing associations, low environmental impact. Generally building contacts with other cohousing projects and associated networks.
Meetings to recruit more prospective members. (Need to make sure these new people are integrated into the group.)