As a child I loved Western movies. Not all, not the ‘revenge and kill an Indian before breakfast’ type, but the ‘wagons crossing a continent, looking for a better life’ type, yes.
I liked those groups of eclectic people who all, for various reasons, were working collaboratively towards the same goal: getting to the west coast of America alive with enough belongings to start their new life. They had to cross swamps, rivers and deserts. They usually had to pass that mountain range before an explicit date to avoid winter blizzards. They had to negotiate between themselves and with different aggressive human groups. Each step of the way was full of its specific dangers but also had a deadline that could not be missed.
Building a cohousing reminds me of those Western movies. Each stage of the process could be the last. The crossing of the desert like the search for a site can be the death of your project if you lose your way or never find a site. This first stage achieved, a tremendous success, bottles of whisky/champagne are opened, drunk but immediately after comes the realisation that there is no turning back. The cohousing group like the settlers had gone too far and cannot afford to turn back. Success is necessary to survival. It is frightening and extraordinarily exciting.
The immediate following stage is the negotiation with the Indians/planning regulations. The settlers are camping at the bottom of the mountains and negotiate passage to the other side. Without approval, one is stuck. It is certain death for the settlers, and death of the cohousing group which could not survive the blow of being rejected. Eventually agreement is reached, the way to the promised land is clear, and opening of more bottles of whisky/champagne follows. The morning after, at dawn the cracking of the whip starts the caravan towards the menacing mountain which blocks the way to the promised land. Any time during the difficult passage horrible people can attack you, the food can be stolen, the horses pulling the wagons can die, and some wagons may slip into the abyss, without speaking of blizzards, wolf attacks and horrid clashes among the exhausted settlers.
Less dramatically, our cohousing group has to co-ordinate the work of numerous professionals before any foundations could be dug. Now is the time for meetings with quantity surveyors, utility providers, architects, engineers, bankers, lenders, solicitors, eventually building contractors after a nail biting tender process. A contract with the building contractors has to be signed, the right amount of money must be available at exactly the right time, lenders and other stakeholders must be satisfied that all have acted with due diligence. And of course the members of the cohousing group have to sign individually their home leases and become at last all one cohousing legal entity. Price, work and payment scheduled, quality of the work, everything is detailed, agreed and signed. It is another milestone to celebrate despite the exhaustion, another opportunity to open those bottles.
With each phase of the project successfully reached, the joyful excitement lessens, to give place to deep contentment and reassurance that the project is coming to fruition. Signing the agreement with the contractors is a huge step achieved; we can rejoice while raising our glasses knowing that tomorrow the building will start.
For any reader worried about the quantity of champagne drunk by the Cannock Mill Cohousing group, I can give reassurance that the process had lasted 6 years, which makes it 1 glass every 2 years – and with food!
On Twitter as @evetibber