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First UK senior cohousing community: groundbreaking project’s official opening in High Barnet

25 May 2017

Older Womens Cohousing

May 25 saw the official opening by Theresa Villiers of New Ground Cohousing, the new home of the OWCH (Older Women’s Cohousing) group in High Barnet. This is the first senior cohousing community in the UK and its members planned the development over many years.

The Older Women’s Cohousing group is made up of 26 women, aged 50-87. They are the proud occupants of a block of 25 newly built flats in Union Street, High Barnet. Together they form a self-managing community, based on the shared values of neighbourliness and mutual support. A mix of homeowners and social renters, they want to act as a demonstration project to encourage other older people to plan their later lives and develop similar initiatives.

Having lived mostly alone all over London and beyond, these independent-minded women met regularly to develop their own mini-neighbourhood in High Barnet, design their building and plan their future together. Some OWCH members are still working and others have long retired – many from the public sector. Aware that advancing old age can mean increased frailty and possible isolation and loneliness, they joined forces to plan ahead and to stay in charge of their own lives.

In the short time since they moved in, the women have established a lively mix of sociability and shared activity, plus clear boundaries for personal space and a private life. They intend to look out for each other and share resources as well as reach out to their locality. One of their earliest actions was to invite the whole street in for coffee to see the building that had been under construction, causing inconvenience for a considerable time. They are increasingly well known as the pioneers of the country’s first ever senior cohousing community, establishing here what has been a feature of Dutch and Scandinavian life for decades.

Patrick Devlin, Partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards said: 'It has been inspiring to work with a group of women of such focus and enthusiasm, and to see how beautifully they are inhabiting their homes. The project has also demonstrated that working with a cohousing client and the collaborative design process that we undertook together need not add time or cost to the development. New Ground should be a strong encouragement to other committed and organised groups to realise their own dream projects.'

Claire Anderson, Deputy Director at Hanover Housing Association, said: “We are delighted to have been part of this groundbreaking development with OWCH. It’s been quite a journey and it represents the culmination of a true partnership. These beautiful new homes are testimony to the enduring energy and tenacity of the women of OWCH and we wish them every happiness in the future.'

Zaiba Qureshi, Chief Executive at Housing for Women, said: 'We are very proud to be a long-standing partner in the delivery of this innovative housing scheme for older women and delighted that our tenants have been embraced by the OWCH community.  These homes represent the fantastic achievement of years of hard work, resilience and determination of both past and current members. We wish all of the women all the very best and hope that New Ground and OWCH goes from strength to strength.'

Quotes from the OWCH members and residents

'We are unique, but we don’t want to be unique.'
Shirley, OWCH member and resident

'We have broken the new ground.  Others must now dig it and sow it elsewhere!'
Marion, OWCH member and resident

'This is a social rental that anyone would be proud to live in. I feel a sense of a future. I'm a guardian of this lovely flat for the next generation and the next.'
Josie, OWCH member and resident

'I felt incredibly proud and happy to be able to show our unique community to all those who have worked so hard on our behalf, a truly memorable day.'
Janet, OWCH member and resident

'Somehow, the official opening of our building today has helped me feel properly settled after a 14-year wait. I belong here in this pioneering project in this wonderful place - it's official!”'
Sheila, OWCH member and resident

'Thinking about that question, I remember years ago, OWCH members finding our way to PTE offices in Islington, all excited to be involved in the design and planning of our dream of a future. It was an inspiration to me. It was so much the ethos of OWCH, to have responsibility for our lives, and to find people in PTE who were interested in listening to what we wanted and who would help us to realise it. Now I look out from the balcony of my lovely flat and it seems like a miracle that we're here! That so many of us worked so hard for so many years, to make this happen. Beautiful flats, designed to enable us to spend our later lives taking part in both the OWCH and wider community. To live with the security of friendly neighbours, in a building that provides many spaces for informal and formal gatherings. I feel very proud and lucky to be part of OWCH and New Ground, and I sincerely hope that our story will encourage more older people to believe that they can do this too.'
Diana, OWCH member and resident

'What a day! The culmination of nearly two decades of work and planning, but also the celebratory start of something new and exhilarating as the dream of OWCH becomes a reality.'
Shirley, OWCH member and resident

'I didn't know it was what I wanted or how I might spend the final years of my life until I met the inspirational women of OWCH. Then I knew and now I am living a stimulating, fulfilling, empowering life in amazing surroundings with "friends on tap", involved in making decisions that have a direct effect my life, doing not done to, and I love it here!'
Sue, OWCH member and resident

'The launch of New Ground cohousing was a celebration of joint endeavour and achievement in contrast to divisive terror and destruction.'
Hedi, OWCH member and resident

'I felt so proud showing guests around New Ground and my flat in particular. We really are blazing the trail for senior cohousing. It is exciting and a privilege.'
Charlotte, OWCH member and resident

'A wonderful day, perfect weather and the garden full of plants in sunshine displaying their potential for growth and putting down strong roots, just as we are all planning to do here, in our new homes, together, in Barnet. All thanks to the marvellous group of people who helped us bring this about and who were here to celebrate our opening with us…at last!'
Angela, OWCH member and resident

Sister Christina, past Headteacher of the convent school that sold OWCH the site, said: 'The nuns could not be happier about the use to which the site has been put.'