THE HOUSING SECTOR AND OWCH
Maria and Elizabeth Clarson of Housing for Women approached the Housing Corporation (now the Homes and Communities Agency) for support. This resulted in a Corporation funded ‘Innovation and Good Practice’ Study to examine the concept of cohousing in the context of British housing. Part of this exercise involved reaching out to all the London councils to introduce the concept and garner support, but few were interested. A brief expert report was produced aimed mostly at reassuring local authorities. In 2002, the Corporation awarded OWCH a Social Housing Grant that was portable across London. This vanished over time, along with the relationship with the Housing Corporation as it went on to become the HCA.
Many, many London sites were explored - among them a DHSS Building in Uxbridge Road, West London; Holmes Rd, Kentish Town; two sites in Wembley; a site in Kingsbury; the Mildmay Hospital in Hoxton; Hackney Priory; Deptford; the St George developments in Vauxhall, Sands End and Putney.
Many housing associations were approached, such as Anchor, North British, Hanover. London & Quadrant, Family. Acton, Peabody, ASRA, Hyde; all got involved briefly at different times and put forward possible sites which came to nothing. A site identified in West London by Acton Housing Association was turned down by OWCH members because too subject to noise and traffic pollution.
2006 - 2008
The first prospect of a real scheme came via ASRA on church land in Wembley, in Brent, a borough moderately favourable to the cohousing concept as long as a pan-London grant was in place. OWCH members put in a lot of effort in lobbying the Council and mounting a visible OWCH presence at local festivals. Two years work on this site and two further sites came to nothing, partly through planning difficulties.
The extent of outreach to the housing world and the political system undertaken in these years by key OWCH members, Maria and Housing for Women cannot be fully portrayed here. It should be seen against a backdrop of insufficient supply where housing has remained low priority. London, with its 32 local authorities and pressures of family homelessness, is also a difficult place to develop an unfamiliar housing model. Ageism and a dominant culture of paternalism towards the aged has also played its part in the long journey travelled by the OWCH project.