Parliamentary launch: ‘Cohousing: Shared Futures’

Our ESRC Seminar series concluded with a Parliamentary launch of the project’s final report entitled: ‘Cohousing: shared futures‘.

The launch, held on 22 June 2016, was hosted by Richard Bacon MP.

Associated documents and links:

  1. Website with full proceedings, agenda and presentation: Parliamentary Launch
  2. Helen Jarvis Tribute to Jo Cox MP: Tribute
  3. Final Report: Cohousing: Shared Futures
  4. Final ESRC Seminar, 21 June: Mainstreaming Cohousing in Urban Development



Final seminar to be live-streamed- tune in!


We are very pleased to announce that the final ESRC seminar in the series Collaborative Housing and Community Resilience – taking place in London at the LSE on Tuesday 21st June 2016- will be livestreamed via youtube so that those that can’t attend in person can have access to proceedings. Just click on the link below on Tuesday 21st June to join us.

The live capture will begin with the introduction to the seminar at 11am and continue with each new speaker throughout the day until 4pm (breaking for lunch between 1 and 2).

Here is the timetable of the day if you want to dip in and out of the livestreaming: all times are GMT.

European Perspectives
11:00 – 11:15   Introduction to the seminar – Helen Jarvis, Kath Scanlon and Melissa Fernández

11:15 – 12:00   Anna Dijkhius, The Dutch Federation of Intergenerational Intentional Communities
‘Pioneering socio-material design in Dutch cohousing: lessons from Delft’

12:00 – 12:15           Refreshment break

12:15 – 13:00   Michael La Fond, id22: Institute for Creative Sustainability
‘Developing and maintaining Urban CoHousing: practice and policy lessons from Berlin’

13:00 – 14:00           Buffet lunch

Capturing Knowledge, Influencing Policy
14:00 – 14:45           Finance:  Ways to stop reinventing the wheel
Matthew Conroy, Triodos Bank

14:45 – 16:00           Panel: Opportunities and challenges for developing urban cohousing
Jo Williams, The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL
Patrick Devlin, Pollard, Thomas Edwards Architects (PTEa)
John Killock, Independent researcher and architect
Maria Brenton, OWCH project consultant; UKCN board member

16:00 – 16:15   Tea

16:15 – 17:00   Discussion

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.

Islington Park Street Community: a model for alternative housing in London


21 September 2015

See full report here: Islington Park Street Report

Islington Park Street Community is an exceptional case of mutual support and collaborative housing in London. While not formally recognised as such, it is probably the oldest example of a longstanding co-housing project in the capital city—abiding by all of the key social and design principles of this alternative and increasingly sought after form of living. Established in 1976, it is also a story of resilience, surviving the ebbs and flows of the capital city’s housing and economic policy waves. The community’s flexible model of self-managed communal living has successfully tackled the social isolation of vulnerable and older people, included a system of shared resources that is economically and environmentally resilient and provides a living example of mutual care in the increasingly inaccessible heart of London. Today, as Islington Park Street Community (IPS) approaches its forty-year mark, its 18 long and short-term residents face an uncertain future. Their landlord, the housing association One Housing Group (OHG), has served a ‘notice to quit’.

This report looks briefly into the history and community-life practices of this unique group to understand what is distinctive about Islington Park Street, how this translates into value beyond (but not outside of) the economic and how it may be considered a model for other London housing schemes to embrace and develop, rather than dismantle and displace.

Below are the selected headlines and conclusions.


  • Islington Park Street Community (IPS) is a long-established mixed-needs housing that provides a mutually supportive permanent home for people with mixed backgrounds, needs and abilities.
  • IPS is financially and socially self-managed with a robust decision-making protocol and operates a shared resources model that offers community, health and environmental benefits. Though it originated in the 1970s, its approach is consistent with the current political agenda in terms of community self-determination, voluntary action and the integration of vulnerable and differently abled people.
  • Islington Park Street Community provides a model that could help those facing mental of physical challenges to sustain healthy independent living via mutual support. Housing associations should be educated in this approach.
  • Public and private financial support should be sought to support this innovative, alternative form of community and to allow affordable mixed needs communities and neighborhoods to continue to thrive in London’s city centre.
  •  IPS could be seen as a possible model for the effective and low cost reuse of obsolete owned sheltered housing and care homes.

Conclusions: what next?

‘People do not realise how much it’s cost to get where we are.’

As with the future of so many social housing projects in London today, costs are of course central to Islington Park Street community’s current struggle against eviction. For One Housing Group, there appears to be at least a partial, if undeclared financial motivation to what Local Authority officers from Islington and other councils, as well as leading housing experts are defining as an unnecessary call for eviction. Like all housing associations, they are under pressure to develop new housing. But costs incurred are not just monetary. IPS is the result of inputs that can and cannot be quantified. It has involved forty years of care and support activity both within and outside the community, organisational and management efforts, and a living legacy of the enormous amount of work and energy that went into setting it up as a permanent community with health and wellbeing at its heart. Their community arrangement has social, environmental and community benefits—and therefore, value.

While the social assets and positive impact of intentional communities like IPS have yet to be quantified, their links to health and well-being are increasingly studied and documented. Their shared communal spaces and lack of self-contained units is also significantly more economic and sustainable both in terms of utility costs and in terms of environmental impact (equipment, gas and water use, etc.). Given these combined characteristics, any attempt to remove and decant them should at the very least be founded upon a robust evidence base that includes an economic appraisal of their social and community value.

Design is also a focal element in all intentional communities, central to the possibilities of successful group dynamics and interactions (Williams 2005). It is key to understanding how resources can be managed and shared successfully over time. Lessons could be learned from ISP in regards to the size, scale, density, and layout that supports mutual-support living and minimises the use of resources. Further studies should also be commissioned to look at the unique socio-spatial qualities of this housing site and how they contribute to sustainable communities and neighbourhoods. Supported by the Tudor Trust, the UK Cohousing Network is currently preparing a national action research and project development programme to promote ‘cohousing where you live’, retrofitting co-housing principles into existing homes and neighbourhoods. This will be done with the Housing and Learning Information Network and its partner organisations. According the Network’s chair, IPS will now very probably feature in the programme as an exemplar of good practice and learning.

Despite the government’s and society’s increasing interest in finding measures that can help alleviate some of the most pressing social, economic and environmental issues, including the supply of varied forms of affordable housing that fits diverse needs, there is a dearth of examples of successful schemes in London. Where they do exist—like in IPS—these are not being sufficiently recognised as the models that they are. Moreover, both the ideas of self-organisation in collective housing maintenance and mutual care are still considered anomalies within the mainstream housing and health discourse and practice. It is in this sense that IPS’s internal mechanisms alongside a continuous but hands-off approach by their HA constitute a remarkable example of success.

Cohousing in Berlin: what’s different? Part Two

Kath Scanlon (LSE) and David Mullins (University of Birmingham)

23 March 2015 – PART TWO

  1. Even in Berlin, access to land is now becoming a significant problem. In Berlin, as in London, getting land is one of the main challenges for cohousing groups. Some German city authorities have policies to assist socially sustainable developments like baugruppen. For example, we heard that Hamburg disposes of a proportion of city-owned land through competitions around the concept – not the price. Berlin has in some cases granted cohousing developers an extended time to assemble the down payment, meaning they could better compete against for-profit developers with ready finance. However, the last five years have seen a boom in the Berlin land market with international investors piling in with support from the municipality. Sites previously affordable for baugruppen are no longer so, and groups are looking at sites further from the city centre.
  2. The buildings are unapologetically urban. Berlin baugruppen are typically housed in the five-storey blocks of flats that are characteristic of the city. There’s usually a common social space—which may or may not be on the ground floor—and communal garden. But not all allow for shared cooking or meals, and the space isn’t necessarily arranged deliberately so to foster informal encounters between residents. The constraints of the built form and plot sizes mean sharing may come in unexpected and ingenious ways—at Ritterstrasse, for example, the balconies that surround the exterior of each storey are shared.   Each flat has an internal front door as well as doors onto the balconies, which are uninterrupted by fences or walls, and are used by the buildings’ children as play spaces.
  3. It’s not all housing. Most of the projects intentionally incorporated some nonresidential elements. These included a nursery for children, a hospice for the dying, as well as, spectacularly,an airy purpose-built cabinetmaking workshop at Friesenstrasse, where windows onto the communal garden give a view of an ultra-high tech woodworking ‘robot’ (like an enormous crane).
  4. There’s an infrastructure of specialist professionals. Co-housing groups are recognised and supported by specialist architects and finance institutions. These professionals who understand, and indeed promote the sector, help to account for the wider take-up of these options compared to England. In contrast there was less evidence of umbrella organisations for ordinary co-housing schemes; and just one example of an infrastructure body (Syndicate) which promotes cheap self-help renovations such as Haus 4, the project we visited in the empty former Stasi building. However, there is collaboration between projects to support an annual Experiment Day in which co-housing solutions are promoted to the wider public.
  5. Berliners have the skills. That’s doesn’t mean they are all architects, although we met plenty of them, and some of the buildings were saw were selfconsciously ‘architecty’. More than that, Germans are comfortable with the idea of building their own homes—it’s a perfectly normal part of a German ‘housing career’, in contrast to the UK. And the city has a strong tradition of neighbourhood-level activism, which has given many Berliners an understanding of urban renewal, negotiation processes and municipal politics, as well as strong local networks—in the largest cohousing project we saw (UTB), some 60% of the residents came from the immediate local area.
  6. Even in Berlin, it doesn’t always work. We heard about Mockernkiez, a cooperative initiative founded in 2009 with more than 1000 members ( Households contributed an initial payment of €30,000 each, which went towards buying a plot of land big enough for 400 flats. The balance of the development was to be funded by bank loans. But when construction costs increased the bank pulled out, and members face the prospect of losing not only their dream of a cohousing community but their investment as well.
  7. It’s not for everyone. As in England, co-housing participants are not drawn from across the social spectrum. Even though lead times are shorter, a degree of perseverance is still required as well as an interest in co-operation. Income also is a significant entry barrier since there is no external subsidy to underpin land purchase, construction and mortgage finance costs. We heard about various ways of addressing inclusion:
    • At Spreefeld we heard that participants had made it possible for two refugee households to access homes there through creative use of the flexible space and an element of internal cross-subsidy.
    • At Stadtquartier Friesenstrasse, which had managed to recruit 60% of original residents from the local area without advertising, we had an interesting discussion with an architect about the barriers to lower-income groups sharing the co-housing experience. One possible option had been to sell some plots to individual investors at a higher price per sq m and to use this to subsidise social housing. This was seen as a ‘nice idea’ but hard to make work, and it was felt to be impossible to build co-housing solely for lower income groups. Discussions with municipal housing companies around social-mix partnerships had made slow progress. We heard that co-housing involves giving as well as taking: ‘its about what we can do together and what we can do for the project’.
    • A different model was presented by the Mietschauser Syndikat Haus 4. Costs were kept low by co-operative members working on renovations themselves, and a collective ownership structure aims to protect the model from gentrification. This model, which has its roots in 1980s squatter movements, has enabled over 100 groups across Germany to buy and collectively manage their homes–see

For those interested in learning more about cohousing in Berlin, Thomas, David and others are working on organising a study tour in September 2015; details will be posted when available.


Cohousing in Berlin: what’s different?

Kath Scanlon (LSE) and David Mullins (University of Birmingham)

23 March 2015

Cohousing is a nascent and still experimental housing choice in the UK, with fewer than 15 communities. In Germany, though, it has long been an established part of the housing system, and continues to grow in popularity.   In Berlin alone there are more than 300 cohousing projects. What are they like, and how did they get built?

In the first week of March this year, a small group of academics spent a day and a half touring Berlin, looking at some of the city’s cohousing communities (known as Baugruppen) and meeting architects and developers. Led by German urban and housing expert Thomas Knorr-Siedow, we focused on five sites:

  • Spreefeld, an development of 64 new flats (including some communal units for larger groups) in four blocks on the south bank of the river Spree.
  • Stadtquartier Friesenstrasse, where several new blocks of flats, each designed by a different architect and containing its own cohousing group, face onto a sinuous communal garden;
  • Southwest Sun’, founded by members of the adjoining Buddhist temple and incorporating five hospice units;
  • Ritterstrasse, a freestanding new block in trendy Kreuzberg, housing families; and finally
  • Haus 4, where a concrete-panel building that was originally part of the Stasi’s forbidding headquarters complex is being transformed into a different kind of cohousing community, closer to self-help housing with some of the labour contributed by the future residents. 100 such projects enabling lower income groups to buy and own their homes collectively with an asset lock on resale are promoted by a national umbrella body known as Tenants Syndicate (Mietshäuser Syndikat)

Some of what we observed was unexpected, and there were some clear contrasts with the (relatively few) British examples to date.   What were the most interesting findings?

  1. Cohousing isn’t so ‘alternative.’

    There are more than 300 cohousing communities in Berlin. They are now a standard (albeit minor) element of the local housing market, accounting for up to 5% of new dwellings constructed. Yet they still feel they are not recognised fully by the city’s planning system and are disadvantaged in obtaining access to sites, especially with rising land prices in the last five years.

  2. Residents aren’t all part of the group before they move in.

    Households moving into baugruppen consciously choose a community-oriented lifestyle, but residents haven’t always been involved in early phases of the project. There is commonly a core group of a few households (usually including an architect, who may or may not plan to live in the development). Other households are recruited later, and may not have any input into the design apart from choosing the finishes of their own flats. In the UK, by contrast, most of the (few) existing communities came together as a group first, deciding together how they wanted to organise their space and activities. Of course, in the long run this will be typical in all cohousing developments as the original residents leave through natural turnover.

  3. It’s cheaper.

    In Berlin, recently completed cohousing generally costs less per m2 built than standard developments. For the projects we visited, the sites were bought between 2008 and 2010, when land prices were still low—but they were low for other developers as well. Build costs were reduced because the cohousing developers consciously chose basic construction techniques and finishes (e.g., plywood flooring on outdoor decks; wire mesh along internal stairs rather than banisters). And where the cohousing developers were separate companies, they often did not take a profit.

Part two coming soon!