Comparing building a community to building a house is a useful analogy to emphasise the fact that human communities do not grow like weeds in the desert. It is tempting to treat house building as a metaphor; yet, although it is easy to identify what is needed to build a house – bricks and mortar or mud and wood – what constitutes the cement of a community is still the subject of academic study. If a house means a solid dwelling, safe from elements and dangers, a community is defined vaguely as a group of people sharing norms, values or identity, sometimes even a flag or a football team.
Communities are groups of people holding tangibles and intangibles in common. Exactly the definition of cohousing, where we have both communally shared buildings, land and utilities as well as shared ethical values.
However I believe we should stop the metaphor here. When building a community, unlike when building a house, you do not follow a set of rules: first the foundations then the construction of the wall, the roof and then inside decoration. A community is more organic, more fluid; it may be more resilient too if the shared values are strongly held or fragile if the economic conditions which have put people together change. That is why the easy analogy seems perilous despite some resemblance.
At Cannock Mill Cohousing, we have to maintain human relationships as much as we have to maintain our property if we want to be a sustainable community. And lo! Miraculous wonder of life, working together to maintain our common assets is the main cement of our relationship. Nothing better than putting up a fence, preparing a dinner, digging a garden, planning a cycle ride, even singing together, to create strong mutual understanding.
We are convinced that aside from shared values such as respect, tolerance, democracy – a rather banal-sounding set of liberal, fundamental, decent principles – working together for the wellbeing of the group glues people together and develops respect for each other and tolerance for little eccentricities.
We are convinced because we are actually practising it. It works. It is not a belief or a hope but something we know. Since the group put its money together and bought the land, taking a huge risk, we have all, even recent members, been actively participating in the planning of the building of our cohousing project. We all participate according to our own capacity and it seems that we need everybody’s skills.
Sharing a vision and acting together to make this vision a reality build solid friendship. The risk, the reward, the satisfaction, the frustration are shared and it is the best cement for our community. If you add to the mix an excellent process for decision making, both consensual and evidence based, you have the start of a healthy, democratic, egalitarian, pro-active group. And it works because we trust each other and we trust each other because we work together. Cannock Mill Cohousing is a community and an open one.
On Twitter as @evetibber