From Hampstead to Stroud for co-housing pioneer
PUBLISHED: 09:30 12 December 2014
Growing up in Hampstead, it is close to impossible to avoid tales of the Isokon building, with its striking architecture and fascinating history.
David Michael, who lived around Hampstead and South End Green until 12 years ago, knew the building and its history but found he was most inspired by stories of the building’s early days when it was conceived as an experiment in urban communal living.
Following an initiation into communal living on kibbutz in Israel, which was “quite sexist and conventional: men didn’t work with children, for example,” this initial spark encouraged him to pick up Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett’s book, which coined the term cohousing.
“It immediately made sense,” says Michael. He and his partner decided to up sticks for Stroud so that they could send their children to a Steiner school, and they still live in Spring Hill, the UK’s first co-housing community, which Michael set up 12 years ago.
So enthusiastic is he about the model that he has since set up another community nearby, and is launching seven new urban co-housing apartments in the centre of Stroud this Christmas.
“It’s really exciting for a number of reasons,” he says. “The flats are hewn out of a Victorian building and each one is completely different, but they’ve all got a lot of light-filled spaces and you can also make extra spaces.
“It’s got a huge common house that’s 2,000 square feet and has got a kitchen and there are internal staircases leading from each flat to the common house so you don’t have to go outside when the weather’s bad.”
The flats are completely self-contained with kitchens and bathrooms and each flat even has a dishwasher.
Washing machines are kept in a communal laundry, in part for social reasons but also to reduce noise disturbance between the flats.
Stroud also has plenty of attractions for the north London set looking to relocate to the Cotswolds, with artists and galleries, organic cafes, including one across the road from the new flats, a Waitrose, a farmer’s market and two grammar schools, all within an hour and a half of London.
While optimistic about the idea of co-housing in London, Michael believes the costs are prohibitive, especially in his former home of Hampstead.
“It would be brilliant to have new-build co-housing, maybe around Leyton or the Olympic site.
“Hampstead was once a hip, party place but I don’t think it could happen in Hampstead now. People will have to come to Stroud.
“That’s the great thing about co-housing. It must be quite frightening to move somewhere new where you don’t know anyone but co-housing provides security. You’re moving to a community.”