The first cohousing scheme for older women gets ready to open its doors to residents in Barnet, north London later this year, with several more cohousing projects following close behind.
Hailed as being the answer to the loneliness associated with an ageing population, cohousing schemes offer older people the chance to live independently within a shared community. Members live together in a custom-built housing development, each having their own self-contained apartment and front door, but with the opportunity to share communal facilities, eat together regularly and generally be ‘neighbourly’ to each other.
Most importantly, unlike standard sheltered housing, cohousing developments are designed by the community itself, with residents being chosen to take part in the community and expected to share the responsibility of the ongoing management of the development.
These kind of schemes have been a popular option in parts of mainland Europe since the 1970’s, and there are 200 senior cohousing schemes set up in the Netherlands alone, according to the UK Cohousing Network. However, the model has struggled to transfer to Britain, with issues such as sky-high land prices, councils not understanding the cohousing model, or priority being given to younger age groups being cited as stumbling blocks, along with added problem of finding a suitable developer or housing association partner.
The OWCH Group
The organisation behind the pioneering development in Barnet is the OWCH Group, which consists of 20 or so women aged between mid-fifty and around eighty. Although the members of the group come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, with a range of different health issues and/or disabilities, some retired and some still working, they share a determination to stay as self-dependent and active as they can as they get older. They felt this would be best achieved as part of a group that would look after each other.
The OWCH stands for Older Women Co-Housing and although this particular group is women only and based on the fact that it tends to be women who live alone most in old age, they see themselves as the pioneers of a model that would suit both men and women as they reach a certain age.
With OWCH Group and similar schemes taking 10 years and upwards to come to fruition, there have been calls from within the building industry, as well as from organisations such as Age Concern, for a national strategy led by government that looks constructively at the needs of older people.
A new report written by the Smith Institute think tank and based on extensive interviews, has set out how cohousing can ‘move from the margins to the mainstream’ to make high quality, sustainable and affordable developments the norm.
The measures suggested include the reinstatement of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme, which was scrapped last year, and more support and partnership working with local authorities and housing associations.
Source: The OWCH Group