Last Saturday a few of us went on a tour of Lilac, the established cohousing community in West Leeds. Consensus from the trip seems to be that seeing an established cohousing is a good way to settle some of the doubts that can arise while being introduced to the concept.
As we were led around the common house, the site, one of the homes, the allotments and the green spaces, I jotted down notes. This post is a collage of things that stood out about cohousing.
Cohousing is compromise, compromise, compromise.
“Everything is idealism at first”, Laura told us at the start of the tour. “But then you have to go to reality”.
Cohousing brings people together from different backgrounds and ways of life, all with their own thoughts on how things should be done. Current ChaCo discussions capture this well: about kitchen fittings, green walls, common house design, energy systems and so on.
Whittling the idealistic visions of different members into realistic workable plans, agreed on by everyone, is no mean feat. But Lilac shows that it can be done, and that the results are beautiful.
Cohousing is cooperation.
It’s in the name so this one is fairly obvious, but the implications may not be.
Residents of Lilac are responsible for accounts, conveyancing, facilitating and many other tasks that could be outsourced externally. Pooling existing members’ skills bolsters the sense of community, and discussion among residents ensures that responsibilities are allocated fairly and that everyone is contributing according to their strengths.
Laura said that if they did decide to pay for external help with anything, she’d vote to get a cleaner.
Cohousing is always a work in progress.
The red fence surrounding Lilac had to stay as part of securing planning permission because it was an iconic part of the school that previously occupied the site.
“The red fence is a nice touch”, I said to Laura. She pointed out the section where the new vibrant red is next to the faded original: “it would be better if we finished painting it! Four years and we’ve only got that far”.
As well as finishing the fence, a gardening rota shows which jobs need doing all year round and a maintenance group meet regularly to ensure things keep working smoothly. Other non-urgent tasks exist too: empty space on the site is there to be filled with projects agreed on by residents, like the hot tub and sauna that were built recently.
In short, work is needed and expected of cohousing residents but the result is a dynamic and organic living space that reflects the combined interests and skills of the people who helped to build it.
Cohousing reminds you that you are always a work in progress, too.
After telling us about the near-constant compromise, Laura told us that as a cohousing resident “you realise the world doesn’t revolve around your views which, as I was getting older, was getting more ingrained”.
It is a lifestyle that leads to lessons about yourself, other residents, and life in general. My favourite lesson mentioned? “Learning that we have to talk to each other a lot more for it to run smoothly”.
Cohousing challenges assumptions.
Everything from the lifestyle itself, to the tendency to adopt building materials or technologies that may be less familiar than those in traditional housing challenges assumptions. It is easy to imagine Lilac’s straw-bale walls as delicate and fragile, for example. But despite what you read in the Three Little Pigs, straw is sturdy and resilient to being huffed and puffed and blown down.
When telling people about potentially moving into ChaCo I often get comments to the effect of “so you’re moving into a commune?”. It’s fun challenging these assumptions and explaining the concept and benefits.
It’s more fun to imagine personal assumptions that will be challenged as residents, prospective or otherwise.