This project operates as a not-for-profit company.
Thank You for Your Support
We are sorry to announce that our senior cohousing initiative will no longer proceed.
We did not get enough interest in our latest site and the volunteers who run the company no longer have the time or energy to continue.
For future interest, we have aimed to identify:
• The main points we learned;
• Our experiences on three sites;
• Further organisational learning;
•Reflections on senior cohousing issues.
Main Points We Learned
• We all need to increase awareness of cohousing and senior cohousing as a housing option
• Politicians need to recognise that they should support cohousing as a social and health benefit
• Cohousing groups need help to identify and purchase sites, for example from local councils and governments.
• Political and financial help is needed for squeezed middle income group (those whose property is their biggest financial asset), if cohousing is to expand
– A new build always costs more than older housing, until property prices rise, usually over time. This financially squeezed group has just enough to pay for a new build, but not additional site costs.
• Cohousing groups are bottom up, run by volunteers
– They have a shared desire to be part of the building project and community but may not have any knowledge or experience about what is entailed in accomplishing this.
– They also need time to form a functioning group, to make decisions, and build to relationships with key external organisations. At the same time everyone wants to move in As Soon As Possible!
Experiences on Three Sites
St Andrews Drive
St Andrews Drive was a redevelopment of a social housing site by Southside Housing Association (SHA). The whole site needed new infrastructure such as utilities and roads. If SHA had been a private developer, they could have claimed back these costs from the government. Instead, on top of the projected cost price of £170K for a two bedroomed flat, we were asked to pay £40K to £50K extra to cover the infrastructure costs. This is in a locality where a two bedroomed flat could be bought for £80 to £100K, making our project less attractive.
We had also hoped to be able to offer half the properties in our cohousing community to people who needed to rent, and SHA was keen to help us. However, at a meeting with officials from the Glasgow City Council Housing Department, we were told this was impossible because once someone was at the top of the social housing list, they had to be housed in the next available property. We therefore could not ask people to fulfil the Penington Cohousing membership criteria, once they had reached the top of the housing list, which included being a good neighbour to one another, and contributing to the work, financial needs and business meetings.
There was a demand for the rented accommodation we hoped to offer, and a social and health need to have this type of housing structure in cohousing, but without a funding body to provide the build funds we did not have the financial resources to make it happen. Importantly, some members of Penington who were in rented accommodation, had chronic health conditions and would have benefited greatly from the good neighbour support a cohousing group offers.
We had reached the stage of draft architect plans, incorporating many of our requested features, so having to abandon this site was extremely frustrating for all involved.
The Titwood Road site had originally been offered to SHA, but due to Glasgow City Council having very limited financial resources, the site was to be sold on the open market. We were offered the chance to buy it at half price, that is at one million pounds instead of two million. We could raise some money but not that much just for the site, so we had to let it go.
Flats in the area were valued at £160K-£170K so it would have made economic sense for us if we could have got the site at a lower price.
The Shawbridge site was again a redevelopment of an area of social housing.
The Planning Department had decided that properties for sale could be built on
it because it was in a good position, with good public transport links and Pollok Park across the road. The builder was a small construction company, and some-one we knew had a contact within management.
Penington was offered the ground floor flats in two blocks that were to be built. If we bought all nine ground-floor flats we were offered a discount on the price. Although we advertised this opportunity, we could not get much interest.
Further drawbacks were that the members would have been split between the two blocks of flats, and there would be no common area, unless we all paid additionally for one of the flats to be a common house. We would have no control over who the flats were sold to in the future, and again the price of flats in the area was lower than the £170K-£180K price that was the projected cost of purchase.
Organisational Lessons from these Experiences
• Enthusiasm is not enough; you need commitment to do the work from your group. You need a minimum of 4 people to share out this work.
• Housing Associations don’t necessarily know about cohousing and even if they are very supportive may not be aware of how the government regulations, or lack of financial support, will affect setting up cohousing with rented properties. Older Women’s Co-Housing in London got funding from the Tudor Trust to build their flats for rent, then used a small housing association to deal with renting and property maintenance issues. At Penington we hoped SHA would be able to finance the build and look after the tenants, and the other members would buy flats in the block.
• Penington was fortunate in finding experts in housing who were happy to advise us as volunteers. They gave us access to their connections within the industry which in turn, helped spread the message of cohousing amongst housing professionals, and enabled us to work more knowledgably with SHA, Glasgow City Council and the construction company from the Shawbridge Street site. We met the first one at our stand at the 50+ Show at the SECC in Glasgow. He then suggested someone else who would be helpful for us to know. We owe both of them our grateful thanks for their help and support.
• We also accessed various additional skills, such as Volunteer Glasgow getting us volunteer social media advisors. We paid for press releases to be done but were kindly given lower rates. We had the help, pro bono, from a very respected Glasgow solicitor. We used the skills that members had in looking after web sites and using some paid help at times with this as well. These people were vital to the skills mix needed to take the initiative forward.
• We actively promoted the initiative and its aims which was essential but time consuming. Approaches including monthly drop-in sessions, speaking to local groups, attending exhibitions and events and regular email updates, as well as our website, Facebook and Twitter pages
Reflections on Senior Cohousing Issues
Senior cohousing has several additional difficulties on top of the ones for an all-age community.
• People approach older age with the knowledge they gained from being involved in the care and support of those who faced either older age or chronic health conditions. As an example, in sheltered housing on-site wardens are now rare, except for mobile wardens, who probably won’t know your problems or family, should you need their aid. People need to be proactive and learn about what can be offered with regard to advances such as cohousing and Lifetime Homes. This is housing which can accommodate changes, including having to live on the ground floor of your home. Fully accessible housing means you can get home from hospital or have care in your own home, (depending on the problem), whereas if your home has stairs or steps you could not manage at home.
• Later retirement means the window of opportunity while you have your health, energy, finance and interest to move, narrows further. We saw that the uncertainty over site development timings made it difficult for members to commit to cohousing.
• Seniors trying to establish a cohousing initiative may be more likely to have other responsibilities or health issues themselves or in their families, which might add to the challenges. Whilst one can always learn, social media and technical skills may be limited, as well as stamina!
• With loneliness being a major problem amongst older people who have restricted socialising, cohousing provides neighbours next door and walking past, with whom you can socialise and develop support networks, giving freedom so not being only reliant on family. Families or nearest relatives may also live many miles away from older members or be in a different country.
Ann MacInnes, Director of Penington CoHousing
Mob. 07962 264152
Tel. 0141 649 0114
Like us on and follow us on