Seminar Four Reflections (notes from workshop)

Working collaborative documents on mutual support and specialist care in cohousing

Introduction and overview

This seminar explored the topic of community resilience and the challenges and opportunities for supporting mutual self-reliance in cohousing communities. We discussed the provision of different kinds of care and support both in the keynote presentations and in the afternoon workshops.

The seminar raised the issue of diverse needs, values and practices; the individual and collective needs of community members, the values of cohousing communities and their everyday practices. This intersected with workshop discussions looking into the relationship and potential between the ways that cohousing negotiates mutual support and the ways it is handled at state and local levels of public policy and practices, including the commissioning of specialist care.

The afternoon workshops explored some of the claims that distinguish cohousing from mainstream options- alongside other forms of community-led/community-based developments. This touched on the way that many significant claims and values of living together (as an intentional community) remain ‘intangible’.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS FOR THE DAY included (but were not limited to):

  • What is the relationship between collaborative communities and community resilience?
  • What is a resilient community?
  • What, if anything, is different about cohousing?
  • What forms of mutual support are required for resilient community?
  • What is the relationship between mutuality and support in cohousing?


  • Can we typify, distinguish (and measure) the social relations, processes and practices inherent in different forms of cohousing, collaborative housing, and community-led/community-based development?
  • We are also keen to generate unanticipated research questions.


There were four afternoon workshops (flip-chart comments listed below for each):

  • Accounting for intangible benefits: Graham Meltzer with Francesca Fois
  • Learning from OWCH: Andrea Jones with Shirley Meredeen and Rachel Douglas
  • Comparative case studies: Anne Glass with Kath Scanlon
  • Highlighting the public policy agenda: Jo Gooding with Dermot O’Reilly



Learning from OWCH

(Shirley + Rachel + Andrea + Agnes + Okim + Vicky + Colum + Charlie)

Research agenda: look at effects on health, longitudinal study of OWCH- test the argument that we well be less of a cost-burden to mainstream health system

What can be learnt from OWCH: also the example of Sturts Farm Community Trust- approached cohousing via ‘failure’ of Camphill and the need for a structure = Cohousing (in some ways opposite to OWCH); also the need to better understand the health dimensions of living independently, but commonly, as in case of delaying dementia. Some examples for research;

  • Task groups- everyone being involved, not elitist
  • What are the limits of mutual support and how are they determined (what is the evidence base; how can comparisons between what is being done in different places shed light on successful, growing mutual support)
  • Community Led Housing Alliance (nationwide) being set up currently, looking at the research impact of this; suggests need for evidence-based research to support claims:
  • Intergenerational experiences- not comprehensively explored, in a UK setting; cultural aspects
  • What is too big (in the current UK climate/context?), economies of scale
  • Explore gender within cohousing- does it fall down on conventional lines? More or less than current societal norms?
  • Compare communities that have grown in an evolutionary way (small groups….becoming bigger) such as Findhorn; or starting from a prime mover (one person’s vision, where land is gifted or inherited perhaps); or, linked….
  • Linked = dynamics of the pioneers/early doors founders/innovators/ and sustainers
  • Finance – what models help to support the starting up phase of cohousing communities
  • Link this to building the evidence base: credible to authorities and the state
  • Link this to how to get beyond dependence on ‘middle class’ affluent population, e.g. by depending on equity from previous home owners
  • Is it an advantage or a disadvantage to have a few mission-driven people; how so? Is there a trade-off between common ‘ownership’ of the project and timescales to completion?
  • AS more of the UK population rent (increasing %age) how will future schemes be funded? i.e. when members don’t have existing equity in their homes.
  • Making schemes affordable – learning from the different existing schemes (LILAC, OWCH, others), looking at how to get built cohousing with affordable rents; and how to live affordably day-to-day (in terms of food stores/sharing/utilities)
  • The meaning of the ‘front door’? Privacy and boundaries (the need for these), how individuals market this out, e.g. case study of Camphill’s change from ‘family’ to cohousing?
  • Locations/sites/neighbourhoods- what locations work for what kinds of groups? E.g. Older people (inner city transport, shopping proximity, adjacent council estates, rural vs urban?)
  • What skills are existing communities short of? Are they manual skills, professional skills, core skills? What’s a good balance?
  • What/when/why do different organisational forms work in what contexts, for what kinds of groups?
  • How does the architect work in the new role in development of collaborative housing projects?
  • How does the role of the local authority ‘professional’ need to change?
  • Research: does it need to be directed only towards supporting the policy-agenda of more cohousing or community led housing? Do we actively support research into the more critical, uncomfortable dimensions, e.g. racial diversity? Class and inequalities? Yes, to inform within/between the management of groups.


Highlighting the public policy agenda

Looked at first the cohousing landscape and then the policy landscape and points of intersection;Cohousing landscape (variations around commonly shared characteristics):

  • Single/group (how big is this?); senior/intergenerational; overlaps and knowledge of similar collaborative/ coproduced living models (including Camphill, homeless/crisis support)
  • Cross-cutting issues of affordability; purchase/rent; cross-subsidy; development costs and returns (‘value for money’ to include not only £ but social responsibility values?)
  • Cross-cutting theme that CLH and coproduced specialist care (eg for homeless/crisis) are complicated- long-term investment needed, not just financial. The prevailing policy direction supports home-ownership so evidence and arguments needed for more effective use of land, existing property and on wellbeing aspects of collectives
  • Affordability is currently benchmarked against mainstream- the cohousing/CLH offer is different- but need evidence to support e.g. non-£ benefits

Policy landscape:

  • What are the triggers of interest/good practice? (e.g. looking at Leeds/Sheffield, Newcastle)
  • Planning (certainty/ speech)
  • Regeneration
  • Public land/ assets (driving sales, Bupa etc., big nursing homes)
  • Housing (costs more)
  • Childcare,
  • Health care and social care (savings on hospital visits; homecare visits)
    • Are we too extremely focussed? Look at other ways to enable via collective third sector collaboration (enable, skills, investors). Why isn’t the market catering for short-term development models (short-life housing?). Perceived risks
    • Value for money criteria = vague/open interpretation (Treasury Green Book); ineffective use/knowledge powers to enable alternative living.
    • Showcase alternatives (profile projects; relative to NHS, economy, housing etc.)

Linking the policy landscape with place-level opportunities and constraints (the geography):

  • Residual demographics of city – working age (leaving the city, up to 50% decline)
  • ‘Cohousing in place’ care and management offer collective commissioning- support manage homes (policy intersections – look at direct payments)
  • With the withdrawal of the state, is there an opportunity for CLH/ UKCN movements to scale-up capacity in its place? (reference to Demos Housing with Care and IPPR reports – cohousing as a solution here?)
  • Austerity and state withdrawal linked to resurgence of voluntary activity; view this as an ‘age of cooperation’? close alignment with cohousing values
  • Reluctance to support? (or lack of capacity for care in the community) time/capacity and ‘lock-in’ dominance of (under-capacity) mainstream
  • What is (the potential role of CLH/Coho in) this policy landscape? Biggest impact would be in existing neighbourhoods; why 75+ groups not adopting in existing streets
  • Gaps- local small-scale delivery (and focus on new but not retrofit)
  • Policy makers need predictability/ low risk; to deliver at scale without diluting end result


Comparative case studies

What/where are the axes and scales of difference as a source of evidence and learning from comparative case studies? Making comparisons within and between countries and community types.

  • Contingency on group/personal;
  • Role of design in cohousing group bonding? Is design cooperation necessary?
  • Different ideas of mutual support?
  • What is ‘Truly’ mutual support” Authenticity is often questioned if developer-led.
  • Primary care service linkages
  • Limits and boundaries of care, and comparisons of what people mean and practice as mutual support in different kinds of communities
  • Built-in systems of care—not perhaps large numbers (threshold of number)The formality and informality of the processes
    • Confusing terms/definitions, e.g. problems arise when comparing to ‘co-operative’ housing. Senior coops in the U.S/ comparable to retirement homes with ‘right to manage’ in the UK?
    • Sustainability – next generation? How to keep community going after turn-over; how to refresh rules once homeownership sets in.
    • Cohouse as a resource for the wider neighbourhood
    • Integration of new members?

Affordability issues: retaining affordability and addressing different kinds of incomes and needs

  • Bill Thomas in U,S.- green house?


Accounting for intangible benefits



  • Is it an oxymoron to try to ‘account’ for intangibles?
  • The problem is that without a language or means of ‘taking into account’ something that is intangible but of great significance and value- it’s rendered invisible (lessons of feminist theory)
  • We need a language of accounting that is not a metric; new stories
  • Cross-cutting theme that in a mainstream landscape based on measuring and monitoring via ‘tangible’ metrics, there is a tendency to regard policies and rules as a safety net (where policies are in tension with trust); compensation for greater efforts to build trust and increase inter-personal competence and mutual respect
  • Challenging this tension would be to relate to intangible values in a positive/ progressive way to foreground tangibles- but this ambition easily derailed by ‘efficiency drive’
  • Translating values from e.g. indigenous knowledge, rooted in authenticity/ autochthony
  • Translating is about experimenting (finding the words, stories) and communicating those narratives in a way that connects with or transforms the mainstream standards of accounting- e.g. to resist and challenge efficiency drives
  • New stories and new vocabulary evolve through co-production, experimentation, dance and play (lessons from Findhorn and other ICs on the significance of celebrations, rituals, dance and play; love and service; members find power within themselves – empathy
  • Multiple layers of understanding shared values that are ever-changing- parallels here the idea of reviewing values (OWCH members review their commitment to shared values annually; Damanhur members enter into one year ‘marriages’ that allow annual review); incorporates reflection into the process
  • Also be willing to admit that intangibles remain intangible – we haven’t got a clue (feelings – beyond language and metrics)….

Cross-cutting themes (running through each of the workshop presentations)

  • How to support the development of groups and sites over time
  • Need to consider resilience as a process (socio-technical)
  • lack of hierarchy as essential to this process (e.g. of group cohesion and social learning)
  • The trade-off between independent living and care (care inside and outside the home) – might be defined as the balance between ‘independence and interdependence’
  • Acceptance of ageing at the personal and cultural level- viewing this relationally, as culturally constructed and not fixed to universal milestone categories (such as working-age, retirement etc.)
  • Replicability into other design spaces

Socialization and culture