All posts by Sian Richards

Things we like to do: Singing

Sian and the other MadDonnas singing at Chorlton Arts Festival 2022
The Mad Donnas singing at Chorlton Arts Festival 2022

I joined a harmony singing adult education class when I was in my late 40s, and found that I enjoyed making music by singing with others!

Some years later, the MadDonnas harmony singing group invited me to join them. We already knew each other through our children or through church, and I happily accepted the invitation. These days we’re almost a band, with two of our number being talented musicians as well as singers. We’ve sung at Chorlton Arts Festival and Celebrate Whalley Range many times, performed and busked to raise money for local good causes, and have done a few private events as well.

We are now meeting up again most weeks, after almost two years of covid-19 disruption to all our lives. We practise our old songs, learn new ones, and of course drink tea and chat.

I’m not the only MUCH member who likes to sing with others. A few of us sing with choirs such as Open Voice Community Choir, Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus and Manchester University Chorus.

Coming together to sing in harmony is a bit like coming together to build cohousing. We all have a part to play, and the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Most of the time things fall into place with a bit of effort, but sometimes the notes clash when they shouldn’t. When that happens we have to listen to each other more and figure out where the problem lies. Eventually we find a way of solving it and harmony is restored. I’m sure that resonates with many cohousers!

Sian

May 2022

Welcome to our new RISE intern

A big welcome to our new RISE intern Isabel, currently studying at ManMet. She’s going to help us revamp our website over the next few months and help us make better use of Facebook and Twitter!

We had our first face to face meeting yesterday at the University of Manchester Student’s Union. It’s changed a bit since I was last there in the 1970s!

Sian

Looking back and looking forwards

The last year has been busy trying to move forwards with sites, sorting our finances out & clarifying our prospectus and business plans.

We are still holding our meetings on Zoom as this has been more convenient for some members. The need for extra ventilation & outdoor meetings has sometimes proved too challenging for some members! Nevertheless smaller work groups are often meeting face-to-face.

We’ve just hosted another meeting (Zoom) for people who have contacted us recently. We’re hoping to attract more new members soon as our search for a suitable site has taken a few steps forward. Other developments have included a prospectus which is now completed and ready to send to prospective partners (building and financial). Also the Business Plan is in its final draft – also for prospective partners.

At the moment we are actively pursuing a couple of sites that we are interested in, which is very exciting, rather daunting, quite time-consuming and not straightforward; Covid absences, end-of-year holidays and changes in personnel contribute to the juggling act. Added to that, life continues with MUCH members with health issues, cycling accidents, family complications and home maintenance work all being stirred into the mixture.

In an attempt to update and modernise our approach to advertising for members, we have agreed to work with our local University – I’m not sure whether it’s MUCH members or the students who will learn the most!
Whatever happens, 2022 looks as if it will be an interesting year for us.

Transport Diaries and Active Travel

I’ll start off with a little disclaimer. This is a personal story of one MUCH member’s journey towards reducing their carbon footprint through ‘Active Travel’. It might help us shape a future MUCH transport policy, but more importantly it might act as a bit of encouragement to any readers considering making the same lifestyle choices.

Once upon a time when I was a single working mum bringing up two daughters on my own, with ageing parents living 100 miles away and the father of my daughters living 50 miles away in the opposite direction, I used to drive quite a lot.

But family life and personal circumstances changed, at the same time as awareness of climate change grew. My parents died, my daughters grew up and left home, sometimes I cycled to work. I swapped the family sized estate for a small hybrid – plenty big enough to carry me and my camping equipment. I went on holiday to Europe by train a few times. I used the train more in the uk. Of course that is a lot easier for someone like me living in south Manchester – I have lots of transport choices, own a car and a bike and am fit and healthy enough to walk and ride to lots of everyday destinations.

Before I retired in 2020 (just before lockdown) I was only driving about 3000 miles a year. The overheads of owning a car as well as paying train fares meant it was starting to look more economical to sell the car and join the local car club or use traditional car hire.

But then covid struck. And I kept the car as my security blanket. Like many others, I left home as little as possible, and reverted to using my car when I did. Mainly for grocery shopping, and a few brief meetings with more distant friends and family members. I applied for my bus pass, and paid a small amount to extend it to metro and rail journeys within Greater Manchester.

I still have the car, but now it is sitting, neglected, on my drive. I’m back to walking with my shopping trolley to the shops once a week or so. I’ve been discovering I can cycle to places I used to drive to.

This July I kept a travel diary of my journeys. Out of a total of 24, most were made on foot, or by bike. I used my car for a short but distant camping holiday, and went into the city centre by tram once. Before each journey I considered whether I could make it under my own steam (or to use the currently popular term – Active Travel). I’ve discovered I often can if I just plan ahead a bit!

Sian, August 2021

MUCH Open Meetings over Zoom

In December 2020 and January 2021 MUCH held two online open meetings for people who had contacted us to get more information about membership of our cohousing project.
The meetings were intended to help people find out:

  • what cohousing really means
  • where we are up to
  • more about joining
  • how to keep in touch for the future

They also offered an opportunity to:

  • meet, or re-meet, some MUCH members
  • meet other prospective members
  • ask questions about anything
  • help people decide whether MUCH is for them

Thus, the purpose of the sessions was to update participants on our current progress with design, sites, and finance, to catch up with what is going on in our lives, to share and answer questions and to offer clarification on our developing partnership and business models.

At the moment there is a lot of interest in co-housing and its values from people who would like to rent or share the ownership of their homes within the proposed project.

Many older people, especially older women, find themselves on low incomes as they age. They may also not have a home to sell in order to become a leaseholder within a co-housing company such as MUCH.  We regularly receive enquiries from prospective renters.

Unfortunately, government housing policy is currently skewed towards housebuilding and high value sales rather than towards housing supply for low income and vulnerable older adults.

Some housing associations/registered housing providers (RHPs) are of necessity driven by market forces and may find it difficult if not impossible to secure funding with which to underwrite social rental. Market rental is an option though this can be expensive.

In this context, MUCH decided to write to participants with the following explanation:

“As you consider your next steps, we want to clarify our ability to provide rented or part ownership properties in our development. As we said in the meeting this is an ambition for MUCH. However, it is unclear whether we will be able to deliver this.

As you will be aware, housing is becoming more expensive and we will need to find the capital to build any apartments which will then be owned by a landlord, or part owned. We are working with a Housing Association to develop the project, but they have made no commitment to fund the development of rented or shared ownership units. We have so far been unable to identify any other funders for these models of ownership or tenancy. We will continue to pursue these models as we feel that they would allow us to develop a balanced community, and meet housing needs that owner occupation does not meet.

If you would need to rent or part-own, you should take this into consideration in deciding your next steps. If you want to support the development in the light of the information above, please let us know.”

As a result, MUCH has a vision to uphold and a determination to move towards it, but there are still significant obstacles in our way.

We were pleased with the level of debate and enquiry from the open meetings. Each participant who chose to remain engaged with MUCH was allocated a personal “buddy” with whom to stay in touch.

We will hold more Open Meetings on a regular basis throughout 2021.

If you would like to receive an invitation contact us at muchmanchester@gmail.com

Design Council: A public vision for the home of 2030

A Public Vision for the Home of 2030

Two members of MUCH took part in a half day workshop, in Manchester, as part of the Design Council’s project ‘A public vision for the home of 2030’.  A report on the project has recently been published.

The participants at the Manchester workshop came from a variety of backgrounds, including architects, planners, academics, other housing professionals as well as individuals involved with community led housing.

The report identified 6 priorities for creating good homes.

  1. Being fit for purpose
  2. Giving people agency
  3. Addressing the climate crisis
  4. Connecting people and their communities
  5. Meeting the needs of every life stage
  6. Representing something different

These feature to a greater or lesser degree in many types of community led housing, and not surprisingly confirm that mainstream housing development often does little to provide what people actually want.

During the workshop we worked in groups, and it was interesting that only one group came up with ideas for a single home, while all the other groups recognised that the local neighbourhood or community was as important as the individual home.

Sian

July 2020

Virtual working

Despite some worries about having to get to grips with new (to all of us) technology, I’m pleased to say MUCH are having regular practice sessions, ironing out our various connection glitches, learning to signal that we want to speak, mute ourselves when we’re not speaking and hoping that our next proper General Meeting will do much better than 2% actual business!

Credit to Sarah Woodard for this chart that seems to have become our new worklives!

End of the year

As we look back on 2019 and look forward to 2020, it’s good to remind ourselves of what MUCH have achieved in the last 12 months.

We signed a partnership agreement with Great Places, our Housing Association development partners.

Paddock Johnson Partnership have been selected as our architects and we had an initial design workshop with them to explore and expand on our Design Criteria.

Florence Collier of humblebee.eco came to talk to us about building to the Passivhaus standard.

We’re updating our Mem&Arts, now with help from solicitors who specialise in community led housing.

A Consensus Decision Making workshop provided a refresher and spurred us on to work harder on making our decision making processes both more effective and more efficient.

We’ve met with councillors, and council officers, attended GMCA Co-operative and Community Controlled Housing Project meetings and GM Housing Futures events.

Several prospective members have met with us for coffee, some have joined us for a shared meal and some have attended one or more MUCH monthly meetings.

We’ve visited OWCH in London, the first CoHousing scheme for the over 50s completed in the UK. We’ve visited other CoHousing schemes both home and abroad. We’re talking to another South Manchester CoHousing group.

And we’ve looked at more sites. Some are too small or too big. Some are too expensive. Some turned out not to be available for development. Finding the owner is sometimes difficult.  Some are unsuitable for development for other reasons.

So although we still don’t have a site, we have been busy talking to lots of people, and learning, and continuing to lay down the virtual foundations of our CoHousing!

Wishing all our readers a Happy New Year,

Sian (member of MUCH)