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Is this design-led senior co-housing project the future for downsizers?

·3-min read
Residents waving at the New Ground cohousing development (owch.org.uk)
Residents waving at the New Ground cohousing development (owch.org.uk)

Hedi Argent, 93, who lives at award-winning New Ground Cohousing in Barnet, was struck by the idea of co-living after finding herself alone. Now, she lives in a purpose-built community with 25 other women, all over the age of 50.

Hedi says: “Before New Ground, I was living in a privately owned flat in south London. We’d turned the second bedroom into a dressing room, and then had another spare.

“After my partner died, I began to think about other ways of living. I didn’t want to live alone, but I didn’t want to go into a residential facility, either.

“I came across a group of women who were looking to build their own community, and got on with them well. Cohousing started to seem like a rather good idea.

“I joined the group 10 years ago, but New Ground had actually been in the works for 18 years. It was important that the community was formed first, before anything was built.

“We met regularly, learning about how other cohousing groups were managed, and supporting each other in lots of different ways.

We have a saying at New Ground: we don’t look after each other, we look out for each other.

“Maria Brenton, a housing consultant who helped found the scheme, travelled to the Netherlands and Scandinavia looking at provision for older women — it’s so often older women who are left on their own.

“After that, we began to think about funding, and look around at housing associations that could act for us. We participated in the design process and the eventual scheme won lots of awards.

“Here we are in our sixth year, still supporting ourselves. Nobody’s left, and nobody’s died!

“What would I say to other women who find themselves living alone? Be brave - take the step. It’s not for everyone but, if you subscribe to the values of living as a community, then it could well be for you.

“We have a saying at New Ground: we don’t look after each other, we look out for each other. If no-one saw me for two days, or my blinds were left down, I’d get an ‘are you alright?’

“Now, we’re thinking about succession. I hope the community can survive.”

What is co-living, and how can I get involved?

Co-living refers to a residential model that empowers residents to set up sociable housing hubs, often with shared green space and amenities.

Some schemes are squarely aimed at ‘generation rent’ - those who don’t qualify for social housing but can’t afford to buy their own home.

Not-for-profit developer Naked House, formed by four friends in 2013, finally received planning permission for three sites in Enfield earlier this year, where they plan to build 22 homes for first time buyers. Construction of the properties, which will be 20 to 40 per cent cheaper than the equivalent on the open market, is set to start in autumn, with registration currently open.

Other groups, like New Ground Cohousing, are formed by would-be residents looking to carve out a corner of the capital together. Bow Creek Moorings is a community of boaters campaigning to create a mooring for up to ten boats on a stretch of the River Lea in east London, which has a long heritage as a home for houseboats.

For those interested in setting up their own group, Community Led Housing London provides a mentorship platform and can help with project management. Instrumental in the development of New Ground Cohousing, it also bridges the gap betweeen boroughs and interested residents, citing ‘a determined and enthusiastic group of people who want to make it happen’ as the bigger marker of success.

The community led housing fund, which is backed by the Mayor of London, has spent 38m across the capital since its launch in 2019.