Blog | Housing

Allan to shepherd cohousing in Powys

Our new recruit, Allan Shepherd, talks about his new role and the difference he's hoping to make

By Ben Bostock · April 23, 2019

See this page in: Cymraeg

I’m very excited to be joining the Wales Co-operative Centre and Powys County Council to pioneer cohousing in Powys. This is a brand new post, developing a relatively new type of housing solution to Britain. This is the first time a local authority in Wales has funded someone specifically to look into the potential of cohousing; so the work we do could be influential across the whole of the country and beyond. The post is funded part-time for a year and we have a great opportunity to reach out to as many people as possible, find out how cohousing could work in Powys (and of course across Wales), and plant some viable seeds for the future.

Cohousing made the news last year when the Older Women’s Cohousing (OWCH) project opened in London. A BBC video about it received 4.5 million views within two days of its launch. The video showed 26 older women enjoying the life that many more can only dream of. A decent place to live surrounded by the people they love. The need is obvious. 3.64 million people over 65 live alone in the UK – 70% are women.

But despite its obvious need and appeal, it is still a relatively unknown housing idea in Britain, with only 21 established projects registered with the UK Cohousing Network (compared to hundreds in countries like Denmark, Holland and the United States). Part of the problem is the number of years (sometimes decades) it takes for a project to get off the ground, eighteen years in the case of OWCH. Things have to move more quickly. This is where local authorities can help, building on the work done by the pioneering projects to investigate ways of helping communities move more quickly towards their dreams.

So what does cohousing actually mean?

In essence, cohousing means having your own home but sharing some common space and purpose.  The sociability of a shared house without the drama of a shared sink is one way of looking at it. Communities get together, come up with an idea of how they want to live, find a site, and create a development that suits their needs, both for individual privacy and closer community cooperation. The shared space quite often includes a garden area, a kitchen/dining area for communal gatherings and meals, a tool store perhaps. The project architecture is designed to facilitate social interaction. Often this means keeping the cars to the perimeters, making streets safe for children, even providing low walls for people to sit and have a casual cup of tea with their neighbours.

The key part to all cohousing projects is that the community has control and responsibility for all aspects of the project. Many work very closely with local authorities, planning agencies, housing associations and other stakeholders, but in the end its down to the community group to work it out and make it work. A cohousing project can provide affordable housing, strengthen communities and offer an antidote to loneliness and isolation, which some studies suggest increases the risk of premature death by up to a quarter.

Isolation is a problem even in big cities, but there are added challenges in a county like Powys, which has approximately 4% of the population of Wales spread over one third of its landmass. Powys relies on community to stave off loneliness and cohousing, so this is one way of extending that community feel deeper into people’s lives and particularly their homes. At the moment we don’t have a distinct idea how cohousing will work in Powys, where the interest is, and how far we can take it. But we’re excited to find out.

I myself experienced loneliness as a single home owner in my forties and decided to sell my house and move into a housing co-op, where I’ve been living now for five years. This has been a life changing experience and I know first-hand the health and wellbeing benefits of having a strong community around me. It’s not all been plain sailing but the joys outweigh the struggles by quite a wide margin. I also worked at the Centre for Alternative Technology for twenty years, which had a strong cooperative ethos and management structure, as well as its obvious interest in environmental technologies and ideas. Co-operative working and living requires a different approach, and I hope to bring my knowledge and direct experience to my new role, helping community groups to shape their own strong and sustainable futures.

We’re keen to hear from anyone in Powys who is interested in finding out more about cohousing, or is already part of a group moving forward with an idea. Email me at allan.shepherd@wales.coop.

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