What’s the ideal size of a new cohousing group? Lessons learned

David Stoker from Cohousing London East writes:

How big should a cohousing founding group be?

A) Small and nimble

In early 2020 we decided to keep our group small, about six core members, to be nimble making decisions. We’d heard about another group growing rapidly to twenty and struggling to get anything decided.

Our thought was: decide what you are, then invite people to it. Inviting newcomers to join a new community-led housing project without any decisions made is like inviting people to a party without saying what food there will be or what music.

At least as a small group we could say, “we’re playing house music, and eating sushi” or “we’re playing smooth jazz and eating wine and cheese” – you are something; you attract the right people and put off the right people constructively. It’s important to polarise a little.

Indeed, if we attracted multitudes with only confused sympathy for our cause, endless introduction time would prefix every planning meeting, expending precious time and energy. The project would risk drift.

B) Strength in numbers

However this created new challenges: drop-out. People inevitably got busy with life, and some members that seemed core neutrally lacked the capacity. So we came to the realisation that we actually need a healthy flow of new members.

I would recommend that new cohousing groups plan a semi-permeable structure for their first six months. People come and go. So our core group of 6 whittled down quickly to 4 – or more like 3 and two halves.

We also risked putting at arms distance a really valuable potential member group – a local ethnic-minority housing association who lived in our area and had been dreaming about cohousing for two years already. As so many cohousing groups struggle with diversity, this would have been a needless missed opportunity.

Our launch event in November had a lot of energy to it, and this energy attracted people. It demonstrated excitement and that something was happening. Otherwise joining a cohousing project looks too much like meetings, which risks dissipating enthusiasm.

Conclusions

My take aways for other groups:

  1. Any new group would benefit from a lively events program. Expect to keep injecting energy into your cause. Plan for this.
  2. Aim for the sweet spot between too small and too big – but err on growth.