LEARNING EXCHANGE DAY
OWCH had an exciting day on October 26 when we hosted a Learning Exchange between 10 other developing cohousing projects. While the political climate is changing towards cohousing and groups are benefitting from the massive media interest in OWCH since our launch, most of those attending reported the same perennial problems of finding land and finance.
Much was learned by sharing progress and difficulties and it was interesting to hear of the many very different models and stages of progress. Some had tried to include social renting properties but none had succeeded yet. Their experiences with local authorities varied tremendously, some more successful than others - and certainly more so than our history shows.
Most were starting by investing in land and selling properties, some without any membership conditions. Some had raised funds for a project manager while others advised acquiring an external advisor to oversee the pros and cons of the detail of developing schemes. Few concentrated on building their community of members in the way OWCH has done.
All went home appreciating the shared learning from which OWCH also benefitted.
ROCK AND ROLL OR PALESTRINA?
It takes all types to make a community. OWCH's varied interests were exemplified on Saturday evening by their choice of entertainment.
One group chose a wet journey to St. Albans Cathedral to sit mesmerised by the baroque voices of the brilliant SIXTEEN, led by Harry Christophers. Others chose to sit in comfy armchairs in our common room, glass of wine in hand, fantasising and moving to the competitive spirit of the extravagantly clad dancers - STRICTLY DANCING on the big screen.
Both experiences were wonderfully enjoyed and we look forward to more such contrasts
THE FUTURE OF LONDON 18 September
The OWCH community will remember the visit some months back of a group of young professional policy makers, managers and analysts from London’s public sector who have been part of a London Leadership programme this year.
In mid-September, this programme culminated in ‘graduation’ presentations by each of the young participants to an audience in central London which included Angela and Maria from OWCH and Patrick from Pollard Thomas Edwards. We heard some excellent presentations on a variety of themes connected with ageing and we, the audience, had to rate each on the basis of best idea, most feasible idea and best presentation.
This event was followed up by an invitation to Patrick and Maria to present the OWCH project to the Future of London Board & Steering group over a sponsored dinner in a pub near the Barbican. Chaired by Lyn Garner, Director of Regeneration, Planning & Development for LB Haringey, these two groups include 20 very senior people from both the public and private sectors,
Discussion about the OWCH project continued through an excellent meal and those present were very interested indeed - so much so that they want to see ‘New Ground’ for themselves, a visit we shall arrange later in the year.
OPEN HOUSE WEEKEND 16th & 17th September
They were queuing outside long before our 10am opening time on both days and the last viewers arrived after the last tour had been programmed.. There was universal acclaim both for the architecture and the idea of cohousing which had been new for many. Patrick and Tom from (PTE Architects) and Hilary (from OWCH) led 4 tours a day, leaving them parched from explaining.
Every resident was on duty, some showing off their flats, some socialising, informing and enjoying the acclaim. We have not yet decided whether we will repeat the adventure next year. It will depend on our evaluation of how we coped and whether we could do it in a way that was not quite so exhausting. But it was well worth while as so many of the visitors left intent on promoting cohousing.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF NEW GROUND
Those who have jobs leave those remaining to their household chores, U3A classes, voluntary work, swimming and neighbourly get-togethers. It is quiet apart from builders who continue to drill and rectify snags
The post fairy collects the communal mail and slips it into our suffragette coloured individual letter boxes.
We bump into each other in corridors, at the supermarket and the numerous charity shops that line the High Street. We have dispersed our surplus belongings there and exchanged them for bits and bobs to which we were tempted but don't necessarily need. Incidentally there are many superior garments in these High Barnet shops.
Groups of four plan the next week's communal mealand display the menu inviting members to sign up while others commit to cleaning up afterwards. Wecheck our emails for the latest reports of meetings and future programming. There is a concert here, a games or sketching afternoon to join.
Gardeners wonder if last night's rain will limit the amount of watering to be done by those on the hosepipe rota. Deadheading, weeding is done when necessary. We note which plants or veg. are doing well. Harvesting our early crops is exciting.
If it is sunny we chat across balconies, inviting others for a cuppa or a chance to stroke the cats. Someone has not been seen today. Should we checkup on her?
The quiet is broken mainly by laughter. Life is full and good.
London Community Led Housing (CLH) Information Hub
On Friday July 14, Angela and Maria presented a short account of ‘New Ground’ Cohousing at City Hall, to an audience of representatives of the Community-Led Housing (CLH) Movement.
We were part of an event organised to launch the London CLH Information Hub, funded by the Greater London Authority and some of the London boroughs to the tune of £450,000. All kinds of housing initiatives were represented there, such as Community Land Trusts, cohousing groups and co-operatives.
The Information Hub will be established in a few months to supply CLH groups in the capital with a range of expert advice on self-build, custom-build, etc. The UK Cohousing Network, the Community Land Trusts Network and CDS, Co-operative Development Services, are collaborating on its formation.
Luke Crookes cohousing creative workshop
The task was to express the essence of the move into our new building. How to interpret 18 years of struggle to establish a new form of collaborative living for older women?
Could it be put into words, sounds ?
An impossible task maybe.?
Yet the members of OWCH attacked this challenge with both apprehension and open minds, the challenge put to them by Luke Crookes, professional bassoonist and musical workshop experimenter.
Luke first entertained us with his virtuoso, humorous display of the myriad sounds and styles the bassoon can create. Then we experimented with a soundscape illustrating our journey from its beginnings, fears, anticipation, through to inhabiting our beautiful new home.
We let go inhibition and nervous expectations, whooping it up at ultimate success, together with the highs and lows of the arduous journey, using our voices and hands to enhance the unique journey with practical impatient foot stamping and expressive welcoming arms
The mystery of interpretation of OWCH's journey became a joyous recollection which was a quite different way of owning the feelings in which we normally express ourselves.
Housing Design Awards
New Ground has won both the custom-built housing design award and the overall housing design award!
Shirley Meredeen was at the ceremony:
As I entered the august buildings of the Institute of Electronic Engineers (next to the Savoy Hotel on the Embankment) I was accosted by someone who appeared to be important with the words "You must be from OWCH". I assumed he guessed because of my age and grey hair. And I was right on both points. He laughed and subsequently turned out to be the chair of the meeting. What l didn't know and he did, was that we were the outright SUPREME winners from all over the country!
As a preamble Lord Kerslake made a strong speech about the need for new thinking on housing policies in design and collaboration between developers and those they housed. After an hour's descriptions of the various categories of winners and our name had not come up I was beginning to think they had forgotten about us. But NO. We had been kept to last because we had not only won our category but also were the overall SUPREME winner! Modesty apart, he was also hoping that there would be a positive learning curve for the hundreds of top UK developers, architects and local authorities present.
The moment was wonderful as not even our architects PTEa had known of our success despite their win in at least 3 other categories also. There was a long roar of applause from all present which we received with swollen heads.
Afterwards many of those present came up individually to shake our hands in congratulation including one of the judges. I commented that it was a surprise and honour when there were so many other really exciting projects shown but she said: "It's because of your community. That was so strong and unique".
OWCH in Touch #2 - our June Newsleter
Sisters are doing it for themselves [Daily Telegraph]
We've been shortlisted for the 2017 Housing Design Awards
OWCH in the media:
Mon Apr 10, 10am onwards
BBC R4 Woman's Hour
OWCH in Touch #1 [pdf] - the OWCH Newsletter
Just two more of us to move in now and we'll all be together by mid February. Latest resident to move in was Janet, an event celebrated in the Enfield Gazette & Advertiser: High Barnet's unique all-women housing scheme welcomes its newest resident
So far 14 of us are now in residence and there has been lots of coverage in the media:
"We are making history": Pollard Thomas Edwards unwraps £4.2m senior cohousing in Barnet. 13th Dec. Architects Journal
Jessica Mairs: Pollard Thomas Edwards completes UK's first over 50's cohousing scheme | De Zeen 9 Dec
Finally OWCH members have begun moving into their new homes
We hope everyone will have moved in by early January. The last few exhausting and anxious months have taken their toll on many of us, but this will fade with time and rest. Our dream is being realised at long last.
We are carving out a path for others in our age group to follow. We hope they have an easier journey than us, now we have shown the way. The senior cohousing community could enrich the last years of many, and reduce pressures on health and care services, if local authorities, planners, policy makers and developers helped remove the many obstacles society puts in its way.
Well, we were a bit over-optimistic about our move-in date. OWCH members now find they must hold out in their temporary accommodation until the scheme is completed this autumn. All kinds of adjustments have had to be made to our arrangements, individually and as a community. One sofa-surfing OWCHer has stayed in 16 different places! We hope to be in Barnet by November, taking our first steps in living as the cohesive community we have created.
2016 August 22nd Future of London
Spotlight on older women's housing
2016 August 22nd Nick Jones, Barnet Society
Ground-breaking housing for women
2016 August 20th Daily Telegraph
Sixty, female and all living under one roof
July 2016: We won an award
At the 2016 Housing Design Awards, New Ground Cohousing was entered by our architects Pollard Thomas Edwards. It won the Richard Feilden award, established by the Homes & Communities Agency in memory of 'the great housing architect, Richard Feilden... given to a project that epitomises values he brought to housing, best summarised as championing the common good, while being innovative and sustainable'.
Louise Wyman, one of the judges, described her role in the HCA as delivering a new wave of garden cities - which have about 3 and a half years' lead time to engender whole new communities. 'Which is why this small project raises a wry smile because it began 18 years ago when a group of women formed Older Women's Cohousing, better known by the great name of OWCH.'
She described how 'a few years ago, Hanover Housing took the project under its wing, offering to fund and develop the homes both for rent and owner-occupation on a disused school site'. She congratulated OWCH, PTEa and Hanover for the achievement. 'Intriguingly, the final hurdle to this project was the requirement to show the health (sic) services at Barnet Council how a group of ageing women could reduce the burden of care costs, an anxiety in a borough where more than 3 in 10 older people live alone and would really benefit from the interdependence planned for old age by OWCH'. See the Custom Build Strategy website for more details
Most OWCH members who were able to have now visited the site of the new building in Union St, High Barnet and some have even walked around their own flats. There is a general concern about the long delay and its quite heavy knock-on effects for those who are living temporarily somewhere, with their belongings (and pets) in store, but there is also a heady feeling of excitement and hope. The building is already showing the promise of what it will become. It looks highly likely that members will be able to move in during the second half of August. That cannot come too soon.
OWCH is now making plans for an opening ceremony a month or two later, when everyone has recovered, to celebrate the first senior cohousing community in the UK and to thank all those who have contributed to its realisation. They will also reach out to the neighbours, who have had to put up with a lot, inevitably, despite the careful and considerate behaviour of the construction workers. Union St residents will see what a lovely building has replaced a derelict school and the ugly, 15 ft wall, to make the streetscape so much more attractive. Watch this space for pictures of the completed scheme after the hoardings come down.
2016 April 5th Co-op News
London calling for an end to housing crisis
2016 Feb 28th Observer interview with Shirley
"10 ways to beat loneliness" no.9) "Live together – but not too together"
2016 Feb 10th UK Wireless Radio - Interview with Maria Brenton
Click "Listen Again" and then "Agenda with Martyn Lewis 10th Feb 2016"
Starts 31 minutes in
Audio file to download
2016 Feb 5th Daily Express
"Only old girls allowed in first of its kind co-housing development"