Science Interviews


Mon, 6th Jun 2016

Co-housing: A sustainable solution?

Jonny Anstead, Director of TOWN

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Your Home In 2050

Do we need to change the way we live? Emma Sackville went to see a communitydevelopment with a difference where communities play a crucial role in the future of housing...

Jonny - So, Iím Jonny Anstead, Iím a director of a company called TOWN, and weíre building a development on the site that weíre standing on. Itís a 42 home co-housing scheme, so itís a housing development with a difference.

Emma - What exactly is co-housing - what is the difference?

Jonny - So, Co-housing is a housing scheme like any other except that the people who live there tend to know each other. So, in this case, theyíre a group of people whoíve been kind of friends for the last few years and, who together have come together to prepare a plan for how they want their neighbourhood to be. Theyíve been active in shaping the place; they prepared a brief for us before we got involved, which basically said what they wanted the place to be like, and feel like, and how they want it to function, and the kind of building standards that they wanted it to achieve. And all of them liked the idea of living in a neighbourhood where they know their neighbours and can sort of pitch in to community life.

Emma - And can you tell me a bit more about the community aspect of the co-housing scheme?

Jonny - Yes, of course. As well as knowing each other, they also have certain things which can really sort of shape the way that the community functions. So thereís going to be a thing called a common house, which is basically an extra building where people can eat together if they feel like it, where they can do exercise classes, or have meetings. Thereíll be a really good kitchen, theyíll be some laundry facilities so, say for example, if you donít want to have a washing machine in your own home, you can do without one and just use the shared laundry facilities. You donít have to but, you know, itís there for you if you want it to be. It will have a large shared garden at itís center, so pretty much all the house and flats will back onto this beautiful green space where kids will be able to play safely, people will be able to grow food, and just generally a great place to socialise.

Emma - I hate to say this, but it sounds slightly verging on hippy.

Jonny - Yes, it does have a sort of hippy streak through it. Of course, it has a hippy ethos in all the good ways. These people tend to be committed to a more communal way of living. Itís not a commune, but a more communal way of living. There are people who are interested in reducing their environmental impact so, I would say, it is in a good way a sort of hippy way of living but, actually, in other ways itís very straightforward.

Emma - So do you think it's a scaleable, feasible model?

Jonny - Look, you know, this is a 42 home scheme. Itís probably at the upper end of the range in terms of the size of co-housing schemes that are generally developed so itís never going to be something that you can deliver at 1000 homes at at time. And yet weíre in the middle of a massive housing crisis in the U.K. and the stuff thatís being delivered by volume house builders is all of a kind, itís all pretty generic and everyone knows what the shortcoming are of new homes. They can be box like, they donít always perform very well, people don't know their neighbours. and theyíre kind of soulless. I think that even if this isnít the answer to the large volumes of houses that need to be built, it definitely sort of is leading the way in showing how a different kind of living can be part of the mix.   


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I had a serious interest in a new cohousing project a few years ago but pulled out after visiting a couple of long-established ones where individualism was pursued to the point of discomfort on the one hand, and shared facilities ended up as a very strict rota on the other. And "our" project got mired in arguments about whether gardens should have fences or we would be allowed to shoot marauding cats and pigs. 

Then there was the problem of buying or selling a house. No difficulty for the "first families" but as we had chosen each other, nobody had the absolute right to leave in case they sold to someone who didn't quite fit in. Thus the communiity would either become more homgeneous over time, or would split into factions, or, having joined, you would lose the option of easy mobility.

Interestingly, humans have evolved over time and without pressure to distinguish between family and community, and whilst I have been happy to live in camps and barracks for short periods when necessary, I find "enforced community" very depressing if the job doesn't actually require it.  alancalverd, Tue, 7th Jun 2016

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