Engagement meeting 23 Nov 2017

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.

Why Cohousing?

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.)

Brum Coho event, Kings Heath, 23 Nov 2017

The event turned out really well! We had 20 people along, and we divided into four groups to discuss a variety of questions and then feed back to the whole group. The questions we discussed were:

What is cohousing? What do you already know about it?

Why cohousing? What do you hope to get out of it? What about it might be difficult?

Cohousing obstacles? What obstacles might the community face? What could we do about them? Who could help?

Your ideal? What would your ideal community be like? What kind of people? What communal facilities would you like? What would individual homes be like?

Where do we go from here?

Feedback on all these questions is being collated through the kind efforts of Sue Coomber and Stuart Martin. I’ll post this up sometime in the near-ish future.

I had just come across a Birmingham community-led housing group that meets out of the Impact Hub in Digbeth, and mentioned them towards the end of the meeting. The feeling of the meeting was that we should be working closely with them, and other such groups. I’ve also just followed up a lead to a housing initiative for older LGBT people in Birmingham, will be meeting up with a representative week beginning 4th December.

Meeting with Moseley and Kings Heath councillors

On Thursday 16th November I had a useful meeting with two councillors for Moseley and Kings Heath ward. They expressed interest in the cohousing project, and were aware of the several full-on housing co-ops that exist in the city. They expressed a general support from Birmingham City Council for such projects, stating that in some circumstances the Council were able to release pockets of land – though perhaps not on the scale that a 20-30 home development would entail.

They pointed me in the direction of several groups who are already thinking about this kind of housing area. They too mentioned the Community-Led Housing group meeting at Impact Hub.

For land, they mentioned that various public bodies – central or local government, the NHS, etc. – are looking to disburse tracts of land that they own, particularly for groups that have a social aim. At the moment I envisage that Brum Cohousing would have a social aim as one of its elements, but I’m not sure whether this would be strong enough to leverage some of this kind of land.

They gave me the name of the councillor and the officers who are in charge of housing for Birmingham City Council (BCC), and I’ve now invited them to the meeting on Thursday 23rd November, and to meet more generally to find out how BCC is fulfilling the obligations it has under 2105 self-build legislation. (See Brum Cohousing Links, Nerdy links.)

Co-ops networking event

On Tuesday 14th November a networking event for co-ops around the Stirchley area was held at Artefact café, Pershore Rd. Over a dozen co-ops of one type or another were represented – including local housing co-ops and work co-ops, a film-showing co-op, the Church of England land rental organisation and the Central England Co-op. The prospective Labour candidate for Stirchley was also in attendance.

The gentrification of Stirchley was felt to be an issue, as was the failure of one council-granted land developer to develop affordable homes.

People at the meeting agreed that more networking events would be a good idea. There was an intention to produce a list of attendees and their organisations, and what they could contribute to a network of co-operatives – i.e. to each other.

A representative of the Federici housing co-op suggested that I get in touch with a Community-Led Housing group that has started to meet at Birmingham Impact Hub.

Sustainable Communities Conference

Great event yesterday at the mac (Midlands Arts Centre) – Sustainable Communities Conference 2017, put on by Climate Change Solutions and the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) Sustainability Network.

Many great speakers and exhibitors from throughout the West Midlands and some from further afield – though I was mostly focussed on Birmingham. I can only mention a few names from amongst the crowd.

My top favourite was Dr Noha Nasser of Mela Social Enterprise. Mela have just published a book called “Connections: 12 approaches to relationship-based placemaking”, edited by Dr Nasser. Amongst other things she spoke of various projects and events held in Balsall Heath to increase community cohesion. A very human approach.

Future we Want were showing the “How Bad are Bananas” game, Sam Ewell from Co-op Futures spoke about a Winson Green worm farm, and the importance of telling new and compelling stories about sustainability. Geoff Henderson of Urban Hax spoke about their workspace/toolshop for a variety of artisans. Nicola Clayton of Vanbrugh Construction spoke about low emissions modular housing construction. I spoke with Julian Todd of Climate Action Network West Midlands about the need to put together a database of all these great initiatives across the West Midlands and beyond.

Sustainability West Midlands are working with Groundworks West Midlands to deliver a Low Carbon Growth Support Project.

Kings Heath event – find out all about it

Brum Cohousing welcomes you to an event to explore the advantages and disadvantages of cohousing; the obstacles that might arise; and your ideas for an ideal community.

Thurs 23 November. Doors 7pm.

Event 7:30pm to 9pm-ish.

Kings Heath Community Centre

8 Heathfield Rd

Birmingham B14 7DB

Tickets for free at Eventbrite. If you wish, you can give a donation at the event to defray expenses.