In a nutshell, going from a dream to the reality of cohousing is very much a story of chicken and egg: What comes first the Group or the site? It all comes down to finance. The project must be robust enough to reassure potential group members and ensure financing.
Our group, initially called London Countryside Cohousing, struggled with this conundrum for more than 8 years. We resolved it the day our group was big enough to get the necessary money together and cohesive enough to trust each other with a big chunk of our individual assets.
How did we do this? By becoming:
- A legal entity; early on we formed a company, of which every member of the future cohousing became a director;
- An economic entity, with bank account, pooled resources and a business plan;
- A digital entity with a web site designed to showcase our project;
- A sociological entity; a group of people trusting each other, sharing values and working cooperatively.
The first challenge was to maintain and increase the membership of the group while we were trying to find a site and the money to buy it. We had monthly board meetings with formal agendas and objectives. We were lucky in having 3 successive chairpersons who maintained the group’s cohesion. We built up the practice of consensual decision making. We learnt to share the work load. We defined our aims and values.
The second challenge was the site and its financing. We tried to meet it by associating ourselves with a Housing association. That didn’t work. We weren’t really singing from the same hymn sheet. Nobody’s fault but we wasted time and lost members pursuing an association which was in neither side’s interest.
The group, now leaner and wiser, decided to take the plunge. When, at last, a difficult but suitable site appeared on the market the group’s structures, finances (all private) and organisation were ready. Because the group was cohesive the needs of the cohousing prevailed over individual preferences. We became the Cannock Mill cohousing and went from being Loco to being the Millers. We found the site on Right Move after contacting land agents.
At the same time as looking for a site, we were also exploring ways of financing the building of the cohousing once the site and planning permission had been secured. We found a possible funder, HCA, who may offer us a loan. This was only possible thanks to our business plan. We also started a more active recruiting campaign, which is proving successful.
From the start we were advised by the legal firm Wrigleys Solicitors, which we have found very supportive and knowledgeable.
We have also found the advice of UKCN helpful, but the further we get into the project the more there is to understand on the legal front. The more UKCN can support groups in obtaining and sharing good legal, tax and practical advice, the better we can all progress
Our biggest asset, aside a well-structured and dare I say it disciplined group, is the presence from the start of our Architect/member Anne Thorne.
It has been a long and rewarding journey towards the communal life that we are all looking forward to.