News from Penington Cohousing, Scotland

It’s sad to announce that Penington (Senior) Cohousing is winding down and we thank them for the generosity of spirit in sharing their journey to help others.

Here’s their report back in their own words:

“We did not get enough interest in our latest site and those volunteers who run the company no longer have the time or energy to continue.  Some of the main points we learnt that might help the cohousing community in the UK:

– 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 benefit

– Councils and governments, you need to help cohousing groups identify and purchase sites

– We need awareness that political and financial help is needed for squeezed middle income group (about 80% of population) if cohousing is to expand.

Cohousing groups are bottom up, run by volunteers. They have a shared desire to be part of creating the community and buildings but may not have any knowledge or experience about what is entailed in accomplishing this. They also need time to form a functioning group and make decisions. At the same time everyone wants to move in ‘as soon as possible!’

Here’s a breakdown of what happened on each site:

St Andrews Drive was a redevelopment of a site of 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 cost price of £170K (the projected cost of a two bedroomed flat) we were asked to pay £40 to £50K more on the purchase price to cover the costs of this redevelopment of the infrastructure. This in a locality where a two bedroomed flat could be brought for £80 to £100K!

We had 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 do this. However, when we had a meeting with officials from the housing department at Glasgow City Council 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 would not be able to ask people to fulfil the Penington membership criteria, of being a good neighbour to one another, and contributing to the work, finance and business meetings that being a member of a cohousing group entails. I would like to highlight there was a number of people who were renting and members of Penington, some of whom had chronic health conditions and would have benefited greatly from the good neighbour support a cohousing group offers. There was a demand for the rented accommodation we hoped to offer, and a social and health need for those with chronic conditions to have cohousing as an option.

The Titwood Road site had originally been offered to SHA, but due to the problems of Glasgow City Council having a very limited budget, the site was to be sold on the open market. We were offered the chance to buy it at half price, £1 million instead of £2 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 smaller construction company and the managing director was a friend of one of our volunteer consultants.

Penington was offered the ground floor flats in two blocks of flats that were to be built, as well as houses on the site and, if we brought all nine ground floor flats, we were offered a discount on the price. Although we advertised this opportunity we could not get much interest. 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.

Lessons from these experiences:

  •    Enthusiasm is not enough, you need commitment to do the work from your group. You need a minimum of four people to share out this work.

 

  • Senior cohousing has several additional difficulties on top of the ones for an all age community. This starts with people approaching older age based on an idea of care based on what they have seen friends and loved ones receive in the past, but there is very little care available, even in sheltered housing where there are mainly mobile wardens who probably won’t know you should you need their aid.  For senior cohousing using the Lifetime Homes Standard, housing is planned from the outset so that it can accommodate changes in the future, like having to live on the ground floor of your home if you can’t use stairs anymore. By moving earlier, you have your health, energy, finances and interest to move which narrows as time goes by. With loneliness being a major problem amongst older people who have restricted socialising, cohousing provides neighbours next door and walking past your door with whom you can socialize, not just relying on your family to do everything for you.

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  • Housing Associations we met didn’t 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. OWCH 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. Unfortunately, because of the costs of the redevelopment of the site, plus the build costs, we could not afford the flats on the St Andrew’s Drive site.

 

  • 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 with SHA, Glasgow City Council more knowledgably, and the construction company from the Shawbridge Street site. We met the first one when we had a stand at the 50+ Show at the SECC in Glasgow and he then told us about someone else who he thought it would be helpful for us to know. We owe both of them our grateful thanks for their help and support..

Ann and Barbara, Penington Cohousing, Scotland