Trust and cooperation in established cohousing

By Cannock Mill Cohousing

We have built our cohousing; we can rest, then enjoy the fruit of our collaborative labour. Can we? Really?

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you are a highly collaborative person. You, yourself may be developing a cohousing or thinking about doing so. At the foundation stage, trust and cooperation between would be cohousers is implicit. Nobody develops a cohousing with people they believe to be incompetent or dishonest!

The process of building is not just about the houses and flats; acting collaboratively and having confidence in each other builds friendships and creates the cohousing community.

Yet, once settled in the cohousing buildings, the group may have difficulty sustaining the right level of confidence between the members for a stress-free collective shared life. What happens once new people come in without the founders’ collective history and drive? Will the same spirit of working toward a common goal be shared by all? Most importantly, what is this goal? What is the cohousing reward we have been working for?

Despite a group’s agreed written values/aims/objectives, we are all evolving over the years different reasons to be in cohousing, to stay in cohousing. The reward for collaborating fully and with good spirit is not the same for each member. Most certainly, at times, other priorities may take over our time, skill and money.

I like to think that life in cohousing is like singing in a choir, something I have done much of over the years. Singing in a choir asks for discipline, cooperation and trust; how else do we manage to sing in tune and in time? My reward as a choir singer is the aesthetic and physical pleasure to meld my voice with the other voices and produce a sound I could never have developed alone. My reward as a cohousing member is to have a friendly warm supportive community around me, a group of people I trust and with which I am happy to cooperate toward our goal of a comfortable cohousing life.

Still, community goodwill is fragile. I would distance myself from the choir if regularly the director imposed music I was not happy to sing, if I do not know where the money from the concerts goes, if nobody respects the rehearsal time or if gossips and cliques divide people. In short, if some members collaborate and others not, if there is favouritism or ostracism, absence of consensus or transparency, then there is no community, trust had been eroded. And without trust there is no cooperation nor collective warmth, just a collection of neighbours.

To keep the flame of cohousing burning, the community must have enough interactions through common meals, common work and activities (book club anyone?) and even singing. The community governance has to be totally democratic, consensual and transparent and every member must feel intrinsic respect for the others. Those are the building blocks of a healthy community. Truly, there is no rest for the cohouser.

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