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September 2019

BRIDPORT CoHousing project.

Sheila and Shirley were invited to take part in a round table discussion in September at the London School of Economics together with many of those involved in the proposed BRIDPORT CoHousing project.
Bridport are two years into their planning and have acquired the co-operation of the local council, several grant giving organisations and architects.   Lancaster University, which has been involved with our longitudinal study are also working with them.

Bridport, who have visited OWCH, said that they have benefitted from learning about our considerable experience and difficulties in getting started and seem to be having a much more successful start

Good luck to you!   We wish  you success.


Our German Visitors

Waltraud, Ute, Renate and Ulrike (Known as Kirsche, German for Cherry) visited us for four days at the beginning of September. The four women live in a Beginenhof in Essen, a form of cohousing well established in Belgium, Holland and Germany. The original Beginenhof community was founded in the 14th century by women who wanted to lead an independent, spiritual life together without taking vows or shutting themselves away from the world. Our visitors share many of our own experiences and enjoy a very similar way of living together. After welcoming them with an English cream tea and a communal brunch the next morning, it seemed like they belonged to OWCH as much as to the Beginenhof. We shared our stories, showed films and photos and laughed a lot. To our great admiration, they also managed a cycle tour of London and very quickly became familiar with English pubs. We were delighted that they could share our weekly communal meal on their last night and on their last morning, after buying up Waitrose’s stock of scones and clotted cream to impress their neighbours back home, they managed to fit in a full English breakfast at our local caff.

We miss them and are already thinking about a return visit.

August 2019: OWCH @ WOMAD - Shirley’s blog


Josie and I were invited to WOMAD world music festival last weekend to spontaneously discuss cohousng with two other coho projects.

I’m not being immodest when I say that we were the stars of the show! 

Postlip CoHousing, established 50 years ago in the Cotswolds, was well represented by Heather Holve, one of eight families that live there now.  Obviously theirs’ is very different from OWCH but at the core there is a clear and mutual understanding of cohousing.  Not so, apparently, from David Michael who represented himself as builder of 4 cohousing developments and resident at Springhill Cohousing In Stroud.  The question of decision making seems to be one of the differences between us.        

The 150-200 audience voiced genuine interest in cohousing generally and OWCH in particular, with keen enthusiasm for how Josie and I explained our history, values and process of management. We were met with huge applause and many were eager to shake hands and congratulate us on our achievement.         

Remember that these WOMAD attenders were there primarily for the vast range of spirited and famous world music performances but took time out to explore alternative housing. That was gratifying.

One of the first audience questions asked if we thought  cohousing would help solve the housing crisis! We gasped but I was the only one ready to respond. I said  that we were only a pin prick in solving the shortage of housing but gave our example of creating 8 social housing units and that many of us had downsized, thus releasing larger properties for others. On reflection I should have emphasised improving the quality of life and community.  But we were limited by time.

WOMAD was quite an experience but I think we did some good promotion for OWCH and cohousing in general.

April 2019: Help extend the Community Housing Fund

Homes England have issued a call for information on the potential demand for long-term funding for community led housing. We know there is lots of demand, so we need to make sure they know too!. Work on the Spending Review will take place imminently and it’s an opportunity to demonstrate to the Treasury the strong evidence base for extending the Community Housing Fund.

Homes England require the following information about your project:

  • A project description

  • The number and types of homes anticipated

  • The tenure of the homes anticipated

  • The location of the proposed homes

  • Anticipated delivery timescales

  • The current stage of the proposal

Showing how much potential there is from the Fund is really important and so Homes England want to hear about all projects - big or small, early-stage or later-stage.

Download your submission form
and send your completed form by Friday 31st May to:

Deadline: Friday 31 May 2019

Please note, if you’ve already submitted a revenue or capital application through the Community Housing then Homes England already has the information they need - unless you are already developing plans for future projects!


Recent developments in government support via The Community Housing Fund, for all forms of community-led housing, such as cohousing, community land trusts, co-operatives and self and custom-build, are leading to the gradual spread around the country of an infrastructure of regional enabling hubs, where potential groups can obtain professional guidance, seedcorn funding, revenue grants, and capital grants for affordable housing.

Contact to find your local hub. If there isn't a hub covering your area, contact for details of an extensive network of technical advisors that is being built up. Groups in the Greater London area should contact, where advisor time and revenue funding to commission consultants is available.

The window of opportunity for the national Community Housing Fund is short. Allocations must be made by March 2020, (although efforts are being made to extend this) so don't hang around, act now and get in touch.

Shirley’s blog

When news of OWCH reached the famous fashion magazine Vogue they contacted us for an example of a resident who had happily chosen to live here and why.

Jude Tisdall responded. What followed were several interviews and a long photo shoot. The article was published in their May edition. Jude explained how cohousing had unexpectedly and happily changed her life at 65. In the article she is one of 4 other women who had changed direction and expanded their lives in later years

December 2018

Housing Futures Recommendations

Housing Futures full report Dec 2018

November 2018

Shirley’s Blog

Asked to talk to students at the London Metropolitan University about New Ground I was expecting an informal seminar group of around 20 people.

To my shocked surprise I walked into a vast lecture room with around 150 students waiting in serried ranks to hear my words of wisdom.

That shock turned into delight as I recognised that this audience of whom 99% were Afro Caribbean, had actually come of their own choice to hear about cohousing generally.  I realised that this was an opportunity never before offered, despite many  attempted excursions into retired black people’s groups, few of whom followed up an invitation to join us during OWCH’s 18 years gestation.

These were mature university students from around 20–40 and just the sort of people we had been trying to interest in our project over all these years. Especially as we really hoped for diversity in our membership.

After my knees stopped knocking I had to abandon my prepared casual introduction to the subject and alter my approach. I had an hour at my disposal and I spoke for around  25-30  minutes on OWCH and  cohousing generally, urging them to consider their futures,  that of their parents and the people they would have the opportunity of influencing when they graduated into employment.

After that I asked for questions and, instead of the normal flat silence, a host of arms were raised and we continued into a good natured, intelligent  and informative session. There was a huge round of applause and many individual questions as I tried to leave. Many of them said they  would be following the websites with a view to advancing cohousing. They asked if we had an open day! Following that I was asked if I minded being filmed in a one-to-one interview for the University archives.

Fifteen minutes later I agreed to be paid £100 which will be paid into the Madeleine Trust Fund.  This was a surprising,  unexpected bonus.

I was on a high as I left but thrilled to have been given this unexpected chance to influence those we really want to continue to attract and  inform.  Long term I hope future generations will be more informed about cohousing.

Elderly, female and trailblazing
iPM recording of an interview with OWCH members 3rd Nov. 14 minutes

July 2018


On July 4, James Brokenshire M.P., Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, announced the launch of a two-phase Community Housing Fund administered by Homes England.  With a strong emphasis on housing that is affordable at local income levels and remains so in perpetuity, this programme will enable community groups and local authorities in England (outside London) to bring community-led housing (CLH) schemes forward. £163m will be available up to 2020-2021.

UKCN writes that it has been working closely with the National CLT Network, Confederation of Cooperative Housing and Locality in developing the details of the programme with officials at the Ministry. The four bodies will be launching a single new point of contact website for all forms of community led housing, with information and guidance about the Fund, about local hub support bodies and a consolidated source of information on community led housing from each of the four organisations…so, no more searching four different places for information. This should be ready to coincide with the launch of Phase 2 of the Fund.

A separate GLA-funded CLH resource and advice hub has been established.

Details of the Community Housing Fund:

Under Phase 1, grants will be made available to eligible organisations (grassroots ‘start-up’ groups; existing community-based organisations; developer-community partnerships) for:

Revenue costs - bids are invited now
revenue funding for capacity building and pre-development costs, including seed-corn funding.
Project-specific professional fees and costs, including feasibility work, design work
Planning applications, business planning and project management

Capital costs for infrastructure - bids are invited now
development of associated infrastructure which will support community housing development, which may include:
access roads/roundabouts to open up a site
site remediation or flood attenuation; and utilities

Under Phase 2, capital funding will be made available for construction.


Loneliness Conference, Age UK London

Maria Brenton

The avoidance of loneliness is one of the motivating forces of Senior Cohousing. It appears to be on the increase generally, and has recently had a government minister made responsible for it. I understand from a June 15 Age UK conference on the topic, that the minister, Tracey Crouch M.P., is busy across various government departments developing a national strategy on it to be delivered by the end of 2018. I wrote to her about senior cohousing on her appointment, but, methinks, I will write again.

The first half of the conference was about issues connected with ageing generally. The first speaker was Paul Burstow (former Lib-Dem Minister of State for Care, Chair of SCIE, the Social Care Institute for Excellence, and a part-time professor of mental health policy at the University of Birmingham).  His speech was timed to coincide with the June 15 publication by SCIE and the Centre for Policy on Ageing, of their report The 100 years life: the role of housing, planning and design.

Burstow is steadfastly upbeat and positive about ageing, subscribing to the  ‘asset-based ‘ approach rather than a ‘deficit model’ of ageing defining people by what they can’t do. His approach is, and I quote - ‘a what matters to you focus rather than what is the matter with you.’  He holds that ‘a focus on people’s gifts and strengths boosts their sense of efficacy and self-esteem’, that older people are often ‘the social glue’ in all kinds of settings, the volunteers, the carers, etc. They need to be far more involved in matters affecting them - via a process of coproduction, where there is ‘a transfer of power, far more than consultation’ - and housing, health and care systems need to be more closely aligned. 


Matthew Ryder, deputy Mayor of London for Social Integration and Community Engagement, was the next to speak, setting out the way the Mayor has organised his office, to improve social integration across his whole remit, including older Londoners.  He drew our attention to the London Strategy for Social Integration - All of Us, published in March 2018;  the recent Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Inclusive London.  He assured us that the Mayor is committed to protecting the Freedom Pass, and that they are fully aware of the need to improve public toilet provision across London.  His announcement for the day was that London has signed up to the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. 

The deputy Mayor met with a fair degree of what can only be described as ‘whining’ from some older people in the audience, that he wasn’t the Mayor, but the office boy. ‘Where is the Mayor? Why doesn't he come to meet old people, even if only to say ‘Hullo’? Boris used to - he made us laugh.’ Ryder tried quite hard to explain that, for older people, he is more actually effective than the Mayor, having a staffed department at his disposal and responsible for a cross-cutting strategy.

The GLA will be holding an event to focus on social isolation and loneliness on July 17.  Loneliness, it was acknowledged at this conference, is endemic. 1m older people have been found to go for a whole month without speaking to friends, neighbours or family, and the numbers of 75+ living alone are set to double over the next 20 years, with 1 in 5 people of 65+ being childless, a growing trend. 

Prof. Andrew Steptoe, a psychologist and epidemiologist, involved with ELSA, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, addressed several questions: How lonely are we? Does it affect our health? His positive message was that ’50% of older people don’t say they are lonely, even if they are in their 80s and 90s’ and that young people are lonely too.  A survey in 2016 actually found that far fewer 75+ yr olds were lonely compared with a survey 12 years before. 60% surveyed have at least weekly contact with others, and this is not much different for those in their 80s and 90s. In older age, widowhood and loss of friends occurs and ‘emotional loneliness’ becomes a more critical factor than ‘social loneliness’.

Does this affect health? Poor health and premature mortality are not caused by loneliness but it is a fact that lonely people are less physically active than non-lonely people, more likely to smoke and have a poor diet, with a sedentary lifestyle posing a higher risk for heart disease, depression and cognitive decline, as well as sleep deprivation.

Prof Jill Manthorpe, from Kings College Social Care Unit, went on to say that the ‘loneliest people are in care homes’ where ‘you can be lonely in a crowd’, where you may have few visitors and be surrounded by people with dementia.  She called for new forms of volunteering - corporate forms, time banks and credits, employer-based schemes, etc.  Adult Social Care needs to be recognised as ‘a loneliness service’, and day-centres - which are closing all over the place with cuts to local authority budgets - are a key service valued by physically and mentally frail older people which adds value to their lives. 

Although it was an interesting day, for me the highlight was talking to the man sitting next to me - a thoughtful Indian man, who had looked at the OWCH website and seen our film, and who had lots of ideas about the future use of technology offering networking opportunities between older people. Future versions of Alexa, but not associated with Amazon or Google, and with suitable protection of privacy, will, he thinks, link up older people stuck in their own homes, monitor their health and help coordinate the care they need. In his view, the biggest strides towards harnessing technology to human needs in old age are being made in Japan, with its ageing population and its cultural resistance to immigrants. ‘Virtual villages’ will be created and older people in a locality will be connected to each other and encouraged to meet each other in local networks.  I remain to be convinced, but am happy to be proved wrong!
Maria Brenton


June 2018

Raising money for Barnet Hospital


OWCH member Janet regularly knits clothing for the Friends of Barnet Hospital. This time she crocheted a beautiful bedspread and instead of just giving it direct to the Friends she raffled it among OWCHers. She raised over £100 and the winner is donating it to the Hospital Friends to go on their stall where it will raise even more money



May 2018

Good news on UK Cohousing Network Trust
Maria Brenton

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

Maria Brenton

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:

  1. revenue funding for the costs of getting started, incorporated, paying professional fees etc.

  2. capital funding to local authorities for the infrastructure requirements of new housing

  3. funding for a national network of regional CLH information hubs to grow CLH capacity

  4. 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.

OWCH in Touch #4 April 2018 - OWCH Newsletter

April 2018

Maria's blog

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?
Maria Brenton


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.

You can see the whole film on either the Age UK website,
or YouTube,

Feb 2018

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.
Shirley Meredeen

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.


Jan 2018


Shirley's blog
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.

Read our newsletters - OWCH in Touch

OWCH in Touch #4 April 2018
OWCH in Touch #3 November 2017
OWCH in Touch #2 June 2017
OWCH in Touch #1  March 2017