Co-Housing: Combating loneliness in Muswell Hill eco retirement development
PUBLISHED: 19:19 20 October 2014 | UPDATED: 17:25 24 October 2014
First time buyers are not the only group to be hit by lack of supply in the current housing crisis; retirement housing is also not keeping pace with the ageing demographic in the UK.
New research by Knight Frank has found that housing specifically designed for the needs of people aged over 55 will make up less than three percent of total delivered housing in the immediate future.
At the same time the over 65s will make up nearly 23 pc of the UK population in 20 years’ time, compared with just 5 pc in 1900.
Three new co-housing developments in London, all designed by Pollard Thomas Edwards and backed by developer Hanover, are aiming to provide a remedy to this situation.
Maria Brenton, 69, is part of a group, Cohousing Woodside, planning to move into a development on the site of St Luke’s hospital in Muswell Hill, where 70 pc of the housing projected for completion in 2017 will be for people aged over 55.
She says, “The difference between co-housing and sheltered housing is that the people in sheltered housing don’t run it themselves. I’m of a generation where we like to run our own lives.
“I think you can be quite lonely in sheltered housing, just isolated in your own small space. You can live in a sheltered housing apartment and not say hello to your neighbours from one day to the next.
“Communities are made, they don’t just happen and co-housing is about making a community of friendly neighbours. It’s what the Dutch call ‘eyes on the street.’ If I fell down the stairs tomorrow, nobody in my street would notice.”
In order to foster this sense of community, one of the focal points of the development will be the common house, where residents can cook for each other if they wish, and hold parties and events.
Having worked in social policy at the University of Wales, Brenton is a passionate advocate for the co-housing model.
“There are around 20 co-housing communities for all ages, but there currently aren’t any for over 55s,” she says.
“In other countries this is an accepted model. In Holland, where it’s quite common, it started in the rental market. I think in Britain owner occupation is a bit of a barrier to it.”
With its roots in a Muswell Hill green group, it’s no surprise that one of Woodside’s main requirements was that the development be as environmentally friendly as possible and the group were very interested in the passive house movement.
Patrick Devlin director at Pollard Thomas Edwards explains that because two of the developments are in conservation areas and St Luke’s is attached to the Grade II-listed 1920s administration building the restrictions on building presented some challenges.
“Traditionally there’s a distinctive look for passive houses and orientation is very important for catching energy from sunlight and so on.
“If you’ve got a very particular area around you, like Muswell Hill, that visual won’t necessarily fit in, so we had to adapt it.
“For Woodside we had a specialist consultant in telling us if what we were doing would be up to passive house standard, without it necessarily looking like a passive house.”
Another challenge for Devlin was creating something that was simultaneously practical and appealing and which wouldn’t have the lingering whiff of gravy so many people dread as old age approaches.
“Building for older people is a huge gap in the market,” says Devlin. “Not high care accommodation but good, downsizer retirement accommodation where people can maybe realise some capital and then carry on doing the things they like doing.
“At St Luke’s there’s a lift and the bathroom can be adapted but it’s not an institutional care home.
“Most people only need serious care in the last six to nine months of their life. So Hanover wants to provide places where people can continue living their lives. If you do it well you won’t feel like it’s a retirement home.
“That’s the whole challenge for us. If you go and visit your parents at one of our developments and you want to stay because the design’s so good, that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”