The Joseph Rowntree Foundation agreed to fund Maria to work part-time with the OWCH group. A management group was set up with representation of JRF, Housing for Women and the OWCH group to support efforts to progress the cohousing idea. This relationship and JRF funding lasted until 2004, when the Foundation called time on its generous support.
In 1999 Maria organised a visit to senior cohousing communities in The Netherlands by six OWCH women and the director of H4W.
2000 - 2006
The OWCH group continued to attract members. A strong emphasis was placed on keeping a flat non-hierarchical structure and involving everyone in the task groups for Finance, Communications, Membership, etc. Early on, OWCH members agreed core values of respect and tolerance and mutual support, as well as a positive approach to ageing and care for the environment. They set up a Company Limited by Guarantee and a bank account. Residential weekends each year were a feature of these early years, usually focused on building group solidarity and developing policies for when they would live together. Women brought to the group skills and emotional intelligence honed through years of feminist networking, following careers or rearing children.
Many hundreds of older women came to the meetings through these years, moving on when their housing needs became urgent or their hopes depressed by the difficulties faced by the group in achieving their goals.
OWCH’s decision to create a community for women only was a given from the start. Questions raised about this over the years met the response that it conforms to Equality legislation - a fact confirmed by legal advice. A further reason, OWCH argued, was that older men of the same era had not benefited from feminism’s awakening of gender consciousness and were still almost universally ‘unreconstructed’ in their views of male dominance and female subservience as a ‘natural relationship’.