Cohousing: What we’re not

April 3, 2015 9:43 am

It is sometimes easier to say what you’re not than what you are.  Certainly, we have friends whose political views are much more detailed and specific on what they oppose compared to what they support.  As cohousing is so little known but conjures up such diverse images, we thought it might be worth refining what we are about by rejecting a few of the more fanciful assumptions.

We are a Commune? Er, no. We are building and buying our individual homes – rather attractive houses and flats in fact.  We have formed a company to manage the development and run the facilities which will include our mill house, gardens and our shared activities. As such we are no different from a sports club or many other interest groups. So, is there absolutely no truth in this notion of the commune? Well, most of our members consider themselves ‘baby boomers’ and a few probably managed to earn their parents disapproval at sometime in the 60s or 70s,  but that was then – an adult life of mortgages, work and families has probably brought reconciliation.

We are all pensioners? No. when we started this most of us were in our 50s and still working –  a description that still applies to some members.  Our strong recommendation would be that anyone who wants to start a senior cohousing group should start at that age – if you leave it much later it won’t happen. Now we are a mixture. We have members who qualify for a state pension.  Others have retired early on occupational pensions but are not yet at pensionable age. Others are still working.

We are a close group of friends? Not really.  Most discovered our group and joined without knowing any other members. There was an original group of friends who had the idea of creating a cohousing group. There are also some other connections between people but these are the exception.  What has been enjoyable is establishing new friendships through forming the company and developing the site.

We are a community? Well, yes, but it is such a loaded term. As Jenny put it, ‘ Whenever I mention the word community to anybody, they immediately conjure up images of yurts, compost toilets, and unwashed dreadlocks!’.   Nothing wrong with any of that, but it isn’t what we are about.  Sociologists never agree on what a ‘community’ is.  Phil was once paid to identify ‘communities’ within a major city and found it was much easier to talk about bus routes and accessibility.   We are also conscious that when people think about ‘traditional communities’ there is a nostalgia that overlooks much of the conflict and snobbery they harbour.  Still, it has to be said that  cohousing is an ‘intentional community’.  It is true that when you join our group you are joining with your neighbours in a way that is much more pronounced than when you just buy a new house. We are joining together because we believe that this is the best way of enjoying ourselves, making the most of our resources and keeping our independence. Perhaps, we might be best described as a cohousing company, though one that is mutually supportive and tries to treat all members with courtesy and respect.

We all share the same interests? No, we have lots of different interests and will be going out into the wider locality – or inviting people in – to pursue them.  There are some areas of overlap.  We seem to have quite a number of keen gardeners, swimmers and choir singers, but there is only one golfer, stone carver, bee keeper, potter and quilt maker….. The only thing we would insist we have in common is a desire to create a successful community (that word again) where we will be able to live happy and productive lives.

We have the same politics? No, almost certainly not.  But then we tend not to talk ‘Politics’.  Certainly, cohousing can never be compatible with the misanthropic idea that people are too selfish to work together to make their lives and their environment better. There is also an established psychological phenomenon that one of the best predictors of political liberalism is openness to new experiences. As cohousing pioneers, you wouldn’t be surprised to find that most of us are likely to support left or liberal causes.

We are obsessed with old age and dying? No, completely wrong, and we only mention it because two recent interviews with the media seem to focus in on the fact that we have given some thought to how we want to live for the rest of our lives.  The truth is that it is only by acknowledging our mortality and the risk factors associated with old age that we can maximise the joys of living here and now and in the years to come.

We both feel better for getting that off our chests!

Rosie and Phil