Eve Tibber is a member of the Cannock Mill Co-Housing Project in Colchester. She’s a member of the Advantages of Age FB Group and we decided to ask her a few questions because so many of our members are interested in co-housing.
Would be great if you could introduce yourself and what you do and the Co-Housing Project and your age and the age of the others.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my passion.
I am of French origin and a lecturer in Economics specialising in agro co-operatives. For the moment, I am living in Latin America waiting for the co-housing building to be built and retirement. It’s in Colchester and is called the Cannock Mill Co-Housing Project.
Our members are around retirement age. We all have lived full, active diverse lives and intend to carry on enjoying ourselves in the same way.
How were you introduced to the idea of Co-Housing?
From my background in Co-operative studies as well as my active interest in alternative movements from my late teens.
Do people confuse Co-Housing and Communes?
Yes, and with the gated community too. Communes, everything put in common, physical assets, work and sometimes more. It is managed by the commune Diggers and Dreamers.
Co-housing a mixture of private and common. Easier to define what is common because everything else is private. Common is the land we bought and maintain together, the Mill (our ‘common house’) where we can share occasional meals, entertainment and whatever we want to do and some shared utilities like a carpool, a bicycle pool a tool pool etc. Private is everything else we own – including our individual house or flat with its own front door. Of course, we manage ourselves without any form of exterior administration.
Gated community are independent homes, with a sort of clubhouse attached to them, security at the gate and are managed by an agent without too much say from the people living there. Same for a retirement village.
What appealed to you and why now?
Easy because for my husband and myself, after a lifetime of living abroad, we had to decide where, how and with whom we wanted to spend the rest of our lives. People are to us, the secret of a good life, people from diverse walks of life but with the same values of respect, cooperation and fun. This is what attracted us to this way of living.
What tipped it over into a project from an idea?
Hard work, determination, courage, confidence in ourselves and the right people with the right values. Above all, the right people who all wanted the same thing.
How do you think co-housing connects to getting older and the future?
Cohousing is for everybody, intergenerational cohousing is successful but senior cohousing is easier to start up. The advantages of long-term deep companionship, emotional support, common goals, activities and togetherness losing our individual choices – should allow us to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. We hope to be less a burden to society and to our kids, as well as enjoying our time as fully as possible. My aim is to be part of society and community until I am 105.
How hard was it to find a group of similar spirits to do it with?
Incredibly easy thanks to the UK Cohousing network. There is a lot of information, blogs, and above all a directory of groups.
Are you a mixed gender group?
Yes and equal opportunity.
And what about the land? How difficult was finding that?
Ha! That was the problem. We looked for a site for more than six years but things may be getting easier. The government is waking up to the advantage of senior cohousing and there is some support available for groups.
And paying for it?
Today there are more and more institutions helping, lending money, if you can demonstrate a sound business plan. Community-led housing and community land trusts are lobbying successfully to help groups. Some housing associations are becoming very interested in cohousing.
But the truth is that in the end, we are building our houses, privately. The positive side is that we are completely independent. Building in London is prohibitive but more and more groups are starting in places where brownfield land is still affordable. Some people club together to buy an old place like a small community hospital or old school. Support is available via the Community Land and Trusts.
Tell me about the site and the facilities?
The site in Colchester is in the Bourn Valley, in a nice little wood but still at walking distance from the centre and with a bus at our doorstep 20 minutes to the station, 45 minutes to London by train. There are plenty of cycleways and we have a wonderful greengrocer on our doorstep.
The white house was a water mill that we are making it into our common house with kitchen, guest bedrooms, dining room and a sitting room.
The sitting room is for music making, meetings, yoga, chilling room. We are painting it white! And it will feel so cosy.
What have you set up to deal with conflict in the group?
Our decision-making process is through consensus and well-honed. This process is democratically collaborative, transparent and thoughtful. Until now we have avoided major conflict by being honest and being good listeners. We intend to put in place a conflict resolution process when we move in.
Could you tell me about the process re the project so far?
We are self-developers, that is to say, we have contracted a builder but we are lucky to have in our group the talent and competence to look after the finances and the legal work as well as so many other details, which are incredibly time and skill consuming. We are a Limited Company, all members are directors but we behave like a cooperative. The company is building the houses and owns the leases, each cohousing member – also directors of the company – buy the houses and manage the common assets.
And why Colchester?
We wanted to be close to London, in a dynamic town with both artistic and sporting activities. Most importantly, we wanted a town which was alive. Colchester is very much alive with its university, garrison and interesting history.
Where are you at with it now?
We are moving into our eco-houses in November. We have still 2 houses available or more exactly not allocated yet. We have created a waiting list because life being what it is – we already have had people who had to abandon their dream for personal reasons.
What are your hopes and fears for the future?
Happy forever in my enchanting co-housing, but realistically, co-housing is like everything in life. It is what you make of it. My hopes are to have enough energy to further my engagement in more social, affordable, sustainable community-led housing and co-housing. My fear is that I end up watching daytime television, even if it is in the common room of my co-housing project!
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