Innovative new cohousing scheme in Barnet is the first of its kind in the UK

09 January 2017

Well designed, community focussed and a first in the UK, an innovative project in North London is set to inspire a host of similar schemes throughout the nation.

The Older Women’s Cohousing group (OWCH) has moved into New Ground Cohousing, its new home in High Barnet. The development was designed by architect Pollard Thomas Edwards (PTE), in collaboration with the OWCH group and Hanover Housing.

The members of OWCH have been working together for many years, pioneering the idea of a supportive community for women in later life. PTE collaborated with OWCH to design their ideal community on a site in Barnet, acquired for the group by not-for-profit retirement housing provider Hanover.

Cohousing is a Scandinavian idea gaining traction in the UK, where residents collaborate to design and manage their own communities. Each household has its own private home, but communities share common facilities. The idea is particularly appealing to older people, combining neighbourly support with modern comforts and privacy. Click here to find out more about cohousing in Europe. 

For New Ground Cohousing, the women’s brief was very clear: their own sustainable homes, with shared facilities that create a sense of community. The collaborative design process that PTE facilitated was a learning exercise in understanding the realities of planning and building. The architects worked with the group to evolve a T-shaped layout, which is focussed around shared facilities and communal gardens that provide each of the homes with its own outlook and sunlight. 

The scheme has its own distinctive character, while sitting comfortably with very different neighbours – a mixture of Georgian, Victorian, and more modern buildings. Like their neighbours, the new brick buildings front the street with low pitched pyramid roofs, while the asymmetric pitches of the garden wing roofs refer to the less domestic high street context to the East.  

The main entrance opens into the shared common areas and out to the south-facing communal garden, with flats above overlooking both the garden and the street.

The shared spaces at the entry are the hub of the community. The sociable common house meeting room, kitchen and generous dining areas are complemented by other practical amenities, such as a laundry and drying space arranged around the mews courtyard, and a guest room with balcony that doubles as a quieter meeting space. Access to parking, refuse and mobility scooter bays is all from the central lobby, which will also become an informal meeting space as residents come and go.

The large central garden is the focal point, with secret ‘culture’ garden and craft shed tucked into a more remote corner of the site.

The homes are 1, 2 and 3 bedroom flats, including 8 socially rented homes. Using PTE’s ‘fabric first’ approach, which maximises the benefits of orientation, airtightness and insulation above bolt-on equipment, the homes will all reach Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4.

Shirley Meredeen, 84, who co-founded OWCH, said: “It’s never been done before, and we will be completely running it ourselves. We are making history, and we are extremely proud. We are not going to be a little ghetto of older people, we want to be good neighbours.”

Patrick Devlin, Partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards, who is facilitating several similar co-housing projects currently underway, describes the collaborative design process: “We put together a design process to coordinate the individual aspirations of the members of OWCH. We started from the premise that the members should determine the character and layout of the project so far as was compatible with practical and planning requirements. To achieve this, we designed a series of collaborative workshops which covered the overall site layout; the extent and role of the communal areas; the layout of the homes; and landscaping and materials.”

To find out more about the project, how the group was put together and the development overall, visit OWCH’s website here>>


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