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Oxford communal estate aims to tackle lack of housing
Core group members from Oxford Cohousing, front centre left to right, Michele Coele and Sarah Westcott discussing the new plans for a new co-housing development in Oxford, with others interested in the scheme, left to right, Esther Dusabe, John Dusabe, Jo
A group of Oxford residents want to tackle the city’s housing supply problem head on. In order to lower their bills, they want to set up a “co-housing”, communal estate.
Each resident would have their own front door, but they would share a dining room and eat and cook together.
There is also the potential to use shared cars, help each other with chores and form a closer community.
The scheme would bring together people of disparate ages and backgrounds, and mean a lower environmental impact for each resident.
Now it seems that more and more groups share their views and are experimenting with ‘community living’
From the outside, it looks like a normal suburban semi in East Oxford. But for 13 years this has been a house with a difference.
The residents of the Dragonfly housing co-op are united by their passion for volunteering. The Florence Park co-op was specifically set up in 2000 to give people lower rent, enabling them to give more time to good causes.
Each person pays about £270 a month rent, meaning they can afford to work part-time and devote the rest of their time to volunteering. Oxford Cycle Workshop was founded by a former resident, and current housemates work for feminist movement Reclaim the Night, OX4 Democracy Project and activist training group Seeds for Change.
The five residents who live in the house at any one time form the co-op which owns it, meaning it can never be sold for profit by an individual. That means that its worth lies not in its market price, but in its value as a home. Clare Cochrane has lived in the house since 2008.
The low rent has enabled her to give her time to Oxford Reclaim the Night. She said the group live together with ‘shared ecological values’, trying to minimise their impact on the environment. They try to eat and meet together regularly, but as Clare says: “We are all busy all the time. We do work that involves long hours, even if it is badly paid.”
Another benefit of the project is that it brings together people from a wider age group. Older residents can benefit from help with, for example, lifting heavy shopping bags, while younger housemates benefit from the experience of their older housemates. The current inhabitants’ ages range from mid-20s to mid-50s. Secondary school teacher Dan Whitley, 23, is planning to move into the house next month. He said: “The main advantage is being able to control what the house is like.”
“People are generally lefty, I would say – anti-capitalist.”
Bethan Tichborne, 28, has lived in the house for two-and-a-half years. She said: “It is very different from renting in Oxford. “Before, I wasn’t in the same place for more than six months because it is so hard funding a room you can afford in Oxford.
“This gives you control over your choices about how you live and who you live with. “It is not just a room in a house, you also eat together, and it is about the ethos.” Bethan, who works with special needs children, is appealing against a conviction for using threatening words or behaviour after trying to leap over barriers at Prime Minister David Cameron as he switched on Witney’s Christmas lights in December, claiming he had “blood on his hands” over benefit cuts.
Following in the footsteps of Danish communities
Members of Oxford Cohousing come from all over the city and are united by their dream of affordable, eco-friendly living.
First developed in Denmark in the 1970s, co-housing means that each house has its own front door, but the inhabitants cook and eat together.
They can also share items, from cars to lawn mowers, and help each other with chores like shopping.
Oxford Cohousing – a group of like-minded people who have come together over the past two years – is now looking for one-and-a-half acres of land to build between 20 and 40 homes within the ring road.
They formed in 2011 to create the city’s first communal co-housing estate in Oxford and have since grown to 20 members. To fund the project, the team could either ask a housing developer to create the project on a planned housing estate or work with a housing association.Group member Michele Coele, 59, said: “We are all trying to reduce our carbon footprint and this is a genuine way to do that.”
Ms Coele is a retired social worker who specialised in supporting disabled parents.
Another group member is Lucy Baxter, from Steventon, the adoptive mother of four boys, all of whom have Down’s Syndrome.
Ms Baxter hopes that as well as benefiting from a helping hand now and then from their neighbours in the community, the boys would also all be able to pitch in with their share of the work.
Fran Ryan is a grandmother and a freelance occupational psychologist who has co-written a book on how communities can be involved in planning and contributed to two books on self-management.
Another member, Diana Musgrave, is a retired university lecturer who lives in Leicester.
She says her retirement and the fact she is single will give her the freedom to move to Oxford and give time to the project.
She added: “When it finally happens, it will be a great place for children to grow up safely.
“We’ll live in a “green” way with fewer cars, share our skills, and as we grow older there will be younger folk to keep us cheerful.”
An experiment in a grand setting
Brazier’s Park was set up in the 1950s as an experiment into the advantages and problems of living in a group.
The Gothic mansion sits in a 55-acre estate near Wallingford.
Twelve full-time residents live in the house, or in one of three cottages on the estate.
There are also up to 10 temporary volunteers who come from around the world to be part of the experiment. Each resident has a job, such as cooking, gardening or cleaning, which they undertake for 17 hours each week, plus eight hours of other work to “pay their way”.
The £150,000 annual cost of maintaining the house and grounds is covered by hosting festivals such as Wood and Supernormal, and by running residential courses, yoga classes and workshops.
Residents come from all backgrounds, and include an ex-Bletchley Park code breaker, a former publisher from Oxford and a Greenpeace activist.
The Brazier’s Park School of Integrative Research, as it is called, is looking for four more full-time residents.
Go to braziers.org.uk