Co-housing: A sustainable solution?

07 June 2016

Interview with

Jonny Anstead, Director of TOWN

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, I'm Jonny Anstead, I'm a director of a company called TOWN, and we're building a development on the site that we're standing on. It's a 42 home co-housing scheme, so it's 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, they're a group of people who've 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. They've 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 there's 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. There'll be a really good kitchen, they'll be some laundry facilities so, say for example, if you don't want to have a washing machine in your own home, you can do without one and just use the shared laundry facilities. You don't have to but, you know, it's there for you if you want it to be. It will have a large shared garden at it's 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. It's 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 it's very straightforward.

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

Jonny - Look, you know, this is a 42 home scheme. It's probably at the upper end of the range in terms of the size of co-housing schemes that are generally developed so it's never going to be something that you can deliver at 1000 homes at at time. And yet we're in the middle of a massive housing crisis in the U.K. and the stuff that's being delivered by volume house builders is all of a kind, it's all pretty generic and everyone knows what the shortcoming are of new homes. They can be box like, they don't always perform very well, people don't know their neighbours. and they're kind of soulless. I think that even if this isn't 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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