Collaborative Housing and Community Resilience seminar in Sheffield

28-29th January 2016

Sharing in the future: how collaboration influences ecological behaviour

This hugely successful Sheffield-based event was one of a series of six ESRC funded network seminars designed to combine scholarly research and international debate with practical interventions, including opportunities to visit community-based housing schemes built in the UK.

Research questions for the day included:

  • What are the barriers and opportunities in cohousing developments that deter or encourage ecological behaviour?
  • How does housing design influence individual and collective learning in relation to sustainable living?
  • What are the means of empowering individuals and community through cohousing processes and practices to develop a sense ecological citizenship?

We started on Thursday afternoon with twenty four of us going on a fabulous coach tour of three housing developments in Sheffield:  Fireside Housing Co-operative, Open Door and Shirle Hill Cohousing.

Open Door Cohousing – The first house!

Open Door Cohousing – The first house!

Fireside rear elevation extension and the community cat

Fireside rear elevation extension and the community cat

The elegant Shirle Hill Cohousing development

The elegant Shirle Hill Cohousing development

We engaged in lively discussion with the residents at each development and discovered the challenges of retrofitting four terraced Victorian houses in Burngreave, a wonderful steading on the outskirts of North Sheffield, and a beautiful Georgian mansion that used to be Nether Edge Hospital. Their achievements were truly inspiring and showed how much can be done by a relatively small housing community from a standing start.

The next day saw about forty of us back in the famous Arts Tower, home to Sheffield School of Architecture (SSoA), which hosted a morning of fascinating presentations.

Lunch with a view

Lunch with a view

Lucelia Rodrigues from the University of Nottingam provided a broad critical evaluation of community energy schemes and what the barriers and opportunities are in trying to develop these schemes. Fionn Stevenson explored in more detail how learning in relation to sustainable living was either inhibited or promoted by cohousing design and social practices, drawing on an action research project with the LILAC cohousing community in Leeds. After lunch, Betsy Morris and Raines Cohen from Cohousing Coaches in Berkeley, California, provided an international dimension, with a wonderfully intimate and bespoke video on the journey of developing their own cohousing project over nearly twenty years. This was followed by a short series of four ‘thinkpieces’ and parallel workshops related to:

  • Retrofit – examining how to physically upgrade existing housing and the availability of empty buildings in Sheffield City Centre – with Mark Parsons from Studio Polpo/SSoA
  • Resilience – exploring the interrelationship between low carbon technologies and resilient/ ecological living in reality – Lucelia Rodrigues, University of Nottingham
  • Gender – questioning the traditional means of cohousing production and management to make it more inclusive – Jenny Pickerill from University of Sheffield (new book! ‘Eco-homes’)
  • Co-designing – how the different actors in cohousing procurement interact and how to co-design with a professional team – Anne Thorne from Anne Thorne Architects

All in all, it was a very energetic and inspiring couple of days with lots insights – we hope some folk from Sheffield might make it down to our next seminar in this series in London in June which will be a critical look at financing collaborative housing developments.

Fionn Stevenson, Head of Sheffield School of Architecture.

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