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Good news on UK Cohousing Network Trust
Latest news on the UK Cohousing Network front is that it looks as if the Charities Commission has finally granted charitable status to the UK Cohousing Network Trust, subject to a finally approved definition of Community Led Housing. The UK Cohousing Trust was set up in 2013. I was and remain one of its trustees. We set it up to support the development of cohousing and promote its benefits, and the object was to get charitable status so that grant-awarding bodies would look on us favourably.
What an incredible step forward this is can be illustrated by the history of the Network’s attempts to achieve it. Our first application to the Commission was in 2007. Somehow we could not convince them that the work of the Trust is ‘of public benefit’. The Commission rejected the application in 2008 and again that year when a review was requested. We picked it up again in 2013. Yours truly was tasked with working on it in 2015. That was a great struggle for me, requiring the attention to detail of a Talmudic scholar. Eventually, our good friends, the Tudor Trust picked up on it and financed a firm of solicitors to work on the application and submit it to the Commission. The Network trustees are currently refining a final definition of Community-led Housing by email discussion.
First meeting of the GLA Community-led Housing Information Hub
Oh, that OWCH would have had the help of such an information hub as this to shorten our journey!
At the beginning of May, Angela and I attended a gathering of representatives of the Community led Housing Movement on the 9th floor of London’s City Hall - in a space called ‘London’s Living Room’, with a lovely almost 360 degrees view over the city.
The aim of the meeting was to introduce the newly appointed director of the GLA Hub, Levent Kerimol, and announce the service it would provide. Lev, whose background is with GLA’s housing department, set out the aims of the Hub as being
- complementary not a duplicate of existing organisations
- collaborative not adversarial
- professional and practical
with a view of community-led housing (CLH) as an approach, not a series of pigeon holes - and a strong emphasis on increasing the stock of affordable housing.
The Hub was established through collaborative work by several bodies such as Co-operative Services Development, The Community Land Trusts Network and the UK Cohousing Network, working with the GLA. The Mayor of London and some London boroughs have funded it.
The Hub will act as a point of contact to enable get-togethers of the CLH movement, connecting people, sign-posting, providing a library of resources and accrediting a range of consultants and funders to give broad, impartial support to groups. It will have a panel of solicitors or surveyors or independent financial advisors, for example, to give technical support to get groups to planning permission. Once this is achieved, the costs of the advice are repayable, so that resources can be constantly recycled. There will be training for groups through their developmental stages. The Hub will also reach out to the boroughs, broadening their understanding of CLH; will seek to influence planning policy; will reach out to developers, housing associations etc, private land owners, and to possible funders. To my mind, while all this is wonderful, what is missing is an emphasis on resources for community-building. Hopefully this will be remedied.
Tom Chance, who is stepping in as acting director for the Community Land Trusts Network, outlined the potential of the Community Housing Fund, announced by the Dept of Housing, Communities and Local Government. This has four objectives in providing:
- revenue funding for the costs of getting started, incorporated, paying professional fees etc.
- capital funding to local authorities for the infrastructure requirements of new housing
- funding for a national network of regional CLH information hubs to grow CLH capacity
- funding to bring the CLH sector national bodies together
There was much discussion as to how groups can access the much delayed Community Housing Fund - and by its totally unrealistic deadline of 2020, when the fund ends. The DHCLG is still working on the fund’s prospectus and programme details. Where substantial capital funds are concerned, there can be legal requirements that the recipient be a Registered Provider, like a housing association, in order that Homes England can regulate them for accountability and quality. This provoked much discussion about the burden of bureaucratic regulation on small groups. Much clarification work remains to be done.
I was recently one of the speakers for a national conference in London commemorating the 300th anniversary of the French Hospital Almshouse. The latter was founded in Rochester for Huguenots in 1718, and the conference theme was 'Housing: Exploring the way forward for an ageing population'. You will be pleased to hear that Lord Best kicked off with a call for better design for older people's housing and for 'the big developers to be held to account by an ombudsman for the poor quality of new housing'. His main theme was that older people need options for 'right-sizing' and that improving housing options for older people benefits the wider society. Research apparently shows that an older person 'right-sizing' precipitates three house moves by families. His view was 'this brings three additional lots of stamp duty to the Exchequer. Older people should be exempt from stamp duty when they move on.'
We next heard from an agency providing Live-in Care in your own home, at only £795 a week, compared with the £2000 payable in a care home. This may be a great service, but I was kind of put off by its presenter's description of how they match client to 'carer' via the 'algorithms of their elder matching engine' and 'pulse profile builder'. 73% success rate and zero-hours contracts for 'carers'. Are you part of the 'gig economy?' someone asked. 'Is the next step 'care-robots?' was my question.
Alex Fox, CEO of SharedLIvesPlus, called for a change in the way we think about older people, positively, connecting them in and co-designing with them - and for their unused capacity for friendship and life experience to be recognised. SharedPlus has incorporated HomeShare in assisting older people to make the most of assets like spare rooms for matching with either approved live-in younger Shared Lives Carers or to link up with families happy to build social bonds. He has written a book called 'A New Health and Care System: Escaping the Invisible Asylum', which I intend to get.
Given the 300 years since an almshouse was a vital alternative to penury and destitution, it was an apt parallel for one of my fellow speakers to cite the almshouse movement as the 'first social housing'. Not, though, very accurate when, in response to my query as to whether almshouse tenants these days have the same rights of housing tenure as social housing tenants, came the response, 'No,' for they are beneficiaries'. I asked what that meant, but it seemed to boil down to the ease with which the trustees might get rid of the odd individual who might be an unsocial 'beneficiary'. Let's move on - the almshouse movement seems peopled with trustees who are retired army officers or corporate bankers, and they can't be expected to overturn the traditions of centuries.
My speech, describing OWCH's development and present functioning, laid stress, as you would expect, on the 'social architecture' of senior cohousing, where a community is 'developed, governed and managed by its residents'. I talked about 'co-production' - a rather clumsy term slowly gaining currency in our social welfare and housing world. Its central idea, according to a NESTA paper, is that 'people who use services are hidden resources, not drains on the system, and that no service which ignores this resource can be efficient'. It requires a shift 'of the balance of power, responsibility and resources from professionals more to individuals, by involving people in the delivery of their own services'. I asked my audience to appreciate that many modern older people don't take to our culture's traditional top-down paternalism any more and 'it's time to change the way you work with older people - they have a voice'.
The Twittersphere has pleasingly echoed this message which can't be echoed enough. But, would you believe that the simple message to the housing sector that 'older people are citizens who have a voice, and it needs listening to in relation to their housing' would be received as a bit of a novelty?
March 2018: International Women's Day
Age UK celebrated IWD, bringing 8 inspirational women of different backgrounds together to share experiences and advice about being a woman today.
In this clip OWCH's Shirley Meredeen, founding member of Growing Old Disgracefully and comedienne Lynne Ruth Miller reflect on what they have learnt throughout their lives and why now is an exciting time to be alive for women. https://www.facebook.com/ageuk/videos/1900852693272529/
You can see the whole film on either the Age UK website, https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/travel-hobbies/international-womens-day/
or YouTube, https://youtu.be/X-lIJJGZxI4
Our spirit of empathic co-operation has been put to the test yet again in the last month and proved enthusiastically strong .
One of our members had serious surgery recently and came back to NEW GROUND in need of care. No sooner than she was home other members dropped by to see what her needs were. One had to get up early every day to let the District Nurse in to see to the dressings, another made the patient her favourite breakfast, others did shopping and her flat became a second common room in rivalry with the designated area, with sometimes up to six people entering by the open door to just chat or break up the day. Our wheel chair was available for use but declined, only for her grandson to use it to travel alongside her in a tour around the garden on a sunny day.
Before we moved in such co-operation was already in action for members who were temporarily incapacitated. Much better this way than members languishing in lonely homes feeling sorry for themselves.
And this is what our member's daughter said:
OWCH (Older Womens Co-Housing) is a format for independent living which all of us in our 40s and 50s need to pay attention to. Last month my mum had her first cancer operation. After a 5 hour operation and 5 days in hospital, she was sent home. I stayed with her the first night but soon realised I was surplus to requirements. The formidable OWCHers took over with a roster of round-the-clock care which would have put any care home to shame. I can now get on with my own schedule, totally happy that she is being cared for by people who she actually cares for and because my mother has also helped to care for other OWCHers, she does not mind accepting their help - it's just what you do for your community.
When I am older, that is exactly what I want for myself and my children.
Now co-housing does not need to be single sex - or single age. There are plenty of mixed sex, mixed age models out there. The difference is that each person commits to a shared set of values for living together so that whilst you may not love all of your neighbours, you do know and respect them. And that's something I want to start planning for.
Who's with me?
Samantha Deeks. https://lnkd.in/g23XcrT
OWCH's invited speakers, Dr Watkin and Dr Hopwood from Barnet Memory Service, gave us a two hour presentation on Dementia and Memory loss. Questions from members were presented in advance to the two psychiatrists.
They explained the range of impairments experienced by those with dementia in comparison with normal memory loss. Differences were identified between the different types of dementia, with the range of symptoms commonly experienced.
Your GP can refer you to the Memory Clinic for diagnosis and the full process by which the conditions can be clarified was described. Post diagnosis supportive support is provided where necessary, together with suggestions for ways to cope. Attention was given to the feelings of those going through the process of diagnosis and subsequent anxiety together with provision and need for legal consequences.
Memory aids and problem solving approaches were discussed. Dementia cannot be reversed but once identified, the process may be slowed somewhat. Helpful techniques for living with various degrees of decline were mentioned together with strategies for overall healthy, active living.
OWCH members, indeed the entire ageing population is becoming aware of reduced memory, so this session was very useful in identifying reality and lessening the fear of aspects of ageing.