Six of us went to visit the OWCH site, New Ground, in Barnet on the 1st of May. We were fortunate to be accompanied by 2 partners from Paddock Johnson (our newly selected architects). We arrived and were met by four members of OWCH and Maria Brenton who organizes a lot of their publicity and advice offer as well as a few other interested individuals including a reporter from the Guardian.
It was a great opportunity to see the way the co-housing group have delivered their scheme and find out at firsthand how it is to live there. We were able to visit a number of flats and speak to lots of the women residents. At the end of the afternoon we all came back together and were able to raise any further questions we had over a cup of tea in the common room .
The site is inspirational to visit and, it appears, to live in whether as a tenant or a home owner. The gardens are maturing and the build is well designed to sit on the boundaries of the land offering every flat views onto the main gardens and creating a variety of smaller garden nooks and crannies where the laundry, drying area, parking and other communal amenities are located. Although all of the flat units are built to one of three standard designs there is no feel of being in a housing block or institutionalized setting. All the flats have balconies over or direct access to the main gardens.
We were interested to hear that OWCH, despite its best endeavours, felt very limited in its ability to influence build decisions as the programme rolled out. However the individual flats are beautiful, welcoming, bright, well heated (hot and cold) and even the smallest felt spacious. Three years after taking ownership, each flat now displays the individual style and preferences of each member of OWCH that lives there. It was enticing to see how people had made their homes so unique within the basic design.
There were many architectural aspects of the building which caught our imagination and that we have taken away to discuss further and indeed we had an interesting initial debrief with our architects at a wonderful nearby tea room before we all set off for home. In particular, over and above the need to have a comfortable individual living space, we noted the proximity of a very good range of local amenities, the challenges of being private and secure whilst open to engaging with the local community, the specific challenges to maximize use of shared spaces throughout the building, the importance of creating spaces which act as a natural enabler to promote friendship, combat loneliness and isolation and the need to offer a wide a range of strategies to support predictable ageing requirements from the start.
What was abundantly clear was the pride and affection which the residents of New Ground have for their home and the way in which, despite the challenges they have already met and continue to address, they feel that living as part of an older persons’ cohousing community enhances the quality of their lives.