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20-06-2012 | Building a new neighbourhood is relatively straightforward, but creating a community from scratch is something altogether different. Cohousing projects do just that, with an approach to development where people are just as important building blocks as the bricks and mortar.
Built with purpose
Most conventional development focuses on the immediate needs of individual households. Beyond perhaps some shared outdoors space, there’s rarely any provision for common ground – both literally and between the people who live there.
Cohousing comes at things from the opposite direction. It sets out to create a community, a way of combating the alienation and isolation many people experience today, recreating the neighbourly support of a traditional village or urban neighbourhood in the context of twenty-first century life. Yes, it’s about providing homes, but as constituent parts of an intentional community.
Lancaster Cohousing is behind the UK’s second purpose-built cohousing project at Forge Bank near Halton in Lancashire. The 35 homes and communal areas have been developed to the highest ‘passivhaus’ standards, and will require minimal inputs in terms of energy and heating. But its commitment to a more sustainable approach to living is perhaps more important than its environmental credentials.
Each household has a self-contained, private and personal home - but residents share facilities and decisions about the community’s future. At Forge Bank, a common house will be the focal point, with a shared kitchen and eating area, where residents will regularly cook and share meals. Other communal facilities include gardens, guest bedrooms, a children’s playroom and a laundry.
To some degree, joining a cohousing project requires a leap of faith – a releasing of fear and ego. The shared facilities mean residents can do without some elements we might expect from a home. Private kitchens may be smaller than in conventional developments, and in Lancaster Cohousing’s case, residents are committed to limiting their driving to the occasional use of a car pool scheme. And of course there’s the commitment to actively participating with your neighbours, to a life beyond your front door. But any sacrifices are far outweighed by the use of the communal facilities, and more importantly, by being part of a genuinely cohesive community.
Project CV: Lancaster Cohousing
Set alongside the River Lune on the edge of the village of Halton in Lancashire, Lancaster Cohousing is developing an intergenerational cohousing community, consisting of 35 eco-homes - ranging from one bedroom flats to three bedroom townhouses - communal buildings and workspace. Based just three miles from Lancaster city centre, the development is a cutting-edge example of sustainable design and ethos. Cohousing was pioneered primarily in Scandinavia and the US where there are thousands of examples of successful cohousing developments. In the UK there are currently 12 cohousing communities, another three including Lancaster Cohousing due to open later this year, and a further 32 groups developing projects.
photography: Graeme Cooper words: Will Ferguson