Our very own Ann MacInness gave a talk on PenCoHo at the very inspiring SEDA event

Keeping the conversation going, and pushing forward in all sectors of society in terms of awareness raising, concept building, policy-making and sustainable community growing, that has been the consent on this long planned event in Edinburgh on 12 May, where cohousing developments in the UK and in Scotland were centre stage.

“A discussion took place looking at whether new social housing models like co-housing could help solve the housing crisis: part of the SEDA  (Scottish Ecological Design Association)  Festival of Greendrinks.

An evening of relaxed discussion over a drink to investigate the possibilities of new ways to generate housing that can be more social and supportive of the residents. The debate focussed on self-commissioned models like Co-housing and Buildgroups that have become mainstream in Europe and are increasing in the UK, with projects in development in Scotland. A panel of users, practitioners and enablers presented their work and thoughts before opening the floor to a discussion on what could happen here, in Edinburgh and Scotland, and what it could achieve.

This was a part of the SEDA Festival of Greendrinks’, relaxed and informal events, where the chosen speakers and participants can mingle and chat, usually over a drink of some kind. This event followed a related walking tour looking at past and future housing forms on Edinburgh Northside.”

Why did I think the event was inspiring? Well, there were people who had been and still are at the forefront of trying to get the UK, and especially Scotland, into cutting-edge of community building, where people choose their own neighbours and their shared values. In Europe, and in Canada, also in the USA, self built, cooperative and cohousing developments are nowadays much more commonplace. They are fulfilling a growing need of people of all ages to have more choices, to have community spirit choices, rather than being tied into a planet destroying resource-greedy housing market.

There were really good, informative presentations, such as:

  • from David Seel, SEDA, looking at the whole spectrum of community led housing building and managing, past and present;
  • from Diarmaid Lawlor, A&DS (architecture and design Scotland), on the conceptual challenges and economic solutions implied in our endeavour to shift paradigm and emotional readiness in housing from competitive & unsustainable to sustainable & collaborative practises;
  • from Maria Brenton, OWCH (an all women cohousing for older woman in London), on how the women steadily built resilient community over 18 years, by getting to know each other and evolving the architectural plans, facing down adversity and built strong mutual supportive foundations so that now, in August, they are moving into the first senior cohousing development in the UK.


The three talks by representatives of Scottish cohousing initiatives were very passionate, and portrayed very well the seemingly endless battles with time running away amidst bringing up children, growing old, and trying, more or less successfully, to collaborate with local housing associations and local councils to break through the barriers in laws and policies that are still stopping us from offering innovative cohousing solutions. Liz from CHOISS (Co-Housing in Southern Scotland) invites us to come to their monthly meetings in Edinburgh to lay the foundations for a committed group that can push forward to find land and partners. Liz Hodgson from Vivarium Fife explains that there are two Vivariums, one is the Vivarium Trust, a charity, set up to promote cohousing in Scotland, and which urgently needs  new members, and the other, a local Fife cohousing initiative, looking at a site in Cupar at the moment for possible setting up of the cohousing development. And then there was of course our Ann, who was delighted to share with everybody that the collaboration with SHA (Southside Housing Association) and Glasgow City Council is going very well, that we have architectural plans in place, but that we still need to find many more members daring and caring enough to make history in Scotland for senior cohousing, and that we need flexible regulations and policies for recruiting members from the social rent sector, as meanwhile we can only reach out to the midmarket rent sector.



Lively discussion ensued, with Douglas Westwater from Community Enterprise joining in with the panel of presenters and good audience participation, resulting in hundred percent agreement that we need to push forward in well connected and system-thinking ways to create more choices of community led housing in Scotland, … and that it is not something new, but that it needs to be conceptualised and policy enabled in new ways. In autumn 2016 (as  part of the 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture, and Design and the Festival of Architecture) there will be a housing and cohousing practitioners event in Glasgow, led by Daniel MacKendry and team from A&DS, to have an in depth look at the barriers and possibilities for cohousing in Scotland, and how to dissolve the former and help to manifest the latter. There is also a strong wish to arrive at a Manifesto: a binding (for creation of favourable laws and regulations) as well as liberating (for community-led housing initiatives) Manifesto for community-led cutting edge housing developments. If you’re interested in participating in the planning of this event, or in finding more about it when it comes about, either contact A&DS or us here. And yes please pass the word to any architects, community builders, and policymakers, civil servants, councillors, you think ought to know about this now.

For a slideshow of more event photos click here.

What next?

Get connected face to face, keep the discussion alive, and most importantly let’s get the policies and buildings of thoughts changed to enable sustainable choices ,  and get them translated speedily into brick and mortar!

Forthcoming events:

Notice of Vivarium’s 2016 AGM.  Please note change of venue.

Vivarium’s AGM will be held on Sunday 29th May in The Meeting Room, The Old Parish Centre, Short Lane, Cupar KY15 5EQ from 1.15 – 4.00p.m.  We hope that members and all interested persons will be able to attend.

And there will be regular monthly informal drop-in coffee mornings in Glasgow with and for Penington cohousing members and friends,

every second Saturday of the month, alternating between North and South side venues: 9th July, 10th September, 12th November at 10:15 AM at the Royal concert Hall cafe (at the back of the cafe), and on 11th June, 13 August, 8 October 10:30 AM at the Tramway cafe, G41 2PE. Let’s meet each other. Let’s keep on collaborating ever stronger to get community led housing, cohousing, & senior cohousing off the ground as innovative choices, because as Maria Brenton said: “There are millions waiting!”

CHOISS: Edinburgh meetings every 3rd Thursday of the month. Contact: Liz via Text on 07 971 389 280

Links to visit:

England: http://cohousing.org.uk/    &    http://www.owch.org.uk/

Maria Brenton’s 2013 Research Paper “Senior cohousing communities – an alternative approach for the UK?” (highly recommended reading, downloadable pdf courtesy of JRF)

Scotland: https://www.pencohousing.org.uk/       http://www.vivariumtrust.scot/    &   http://www.choiss.info/index.html

Partners in the planning and manifesting: http://www.seda.ac.uk/   &   http://www.ads.org.uk/   &    http://communityenterprise.co.uk