In our Spotlight series, we cover innovations in regeneration, community engagement, ways of working and more that are being delivered by Future of London’s network. This Spotlight is focused on housing options for older women in Barnet, including the New Ground scheme and nearby alms houses both for women over 50.
Older people make up the fastest-growing demographic in London, and could have a major impact on how we plan, design and manage the city. Addressing this shift involves joint working across housing, public realm, health, transport and social infrastructure and being responsive to the diverse needs of older Londoners.
The New Ground co-housing scheme for older women in Barnet, which has drawn attention from the housing sector and mainstream media, offers one example of community-led housing. As part of FoL’s Ageing Cities and Future London Leaders programmes, we visited New Ground and neighbouring alms houses to learn about these alternative models of housing for older people.
Residents moved into New Ground in December 2016, 20 years after the founding members were inspired by research into co-housing models overseas led by Maria Brenton. Concerned about loneliness, the limited options available and the potential to support each other, a group of six women formed Older Women’s Co-Housing (OWCH) for women over 50.
The first step was to develop a strategy and structure. OWCH researched and visited other projects, took the best ideas and developed policies through task groups. They are very clear that this early investment in establishing ways of working paid dividends when it came to the design and build stage.
OWCH approached every London borough and nine housing associations for help to find a suitable site in London. They were initially rejected by all. There was, and still is, much misunderstanding about co-housing and resistance to a development that encourages older people into an area.
Hanover Housing Association stepped in in 2010 with a site in LB Barnet, and after three years of lobbying, planning permission was finally granted. A turning point was the Barnet Director of Adult Social Care’s argument that this way of living, where people share values and support one another, is likely to reduce – not increase – the social care bill.
Learning the trade
OWCH worked with architects Pollard Thomas Edwards (PTE), which had co-ordinated the Housing our Ageing Population – Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) report, to learn the skills needed to lead their own housing development. The group said that gaining specialist knowledge, such as site assessment and design briefs, was a ‘liberating and powerful experience’.
PTE was impressed by the group’s organisation and effective decision-making process, a result of its early work. The design team insists that the collaborative process between PTE, OWCH and the contractors did not add time or costs to standard housing delivery, dispelling a common myth about community-led development.
Living at New Ground
There are 26 owners and tenants living in 17 leasehold and 8 social rent flats. Each person has a self-contained flat and shares a common room, guest suite, garden, food-growing area and laundry. The flats are light and spacious and the garden well cared for. Everyone takes part in running the organisation and managing the property. OWCH relies on a varied skills base from finance to food growing and members talk passionately about inclusivity, which, for them, includes gender, ethnicity, background, ability and skills as well as age.
Becoming a resident involves a thorough application process, helpful when 400 people applied following initial press coverage! Applicants are allocated a buddy who introduces them to the OWCH way of life. They attend social events, communal meals and contribute to community life. The final stage is an interview, and all current residents make the final decision.
We visited OWCH with Future London Leaders, and all were impressed by the quality of the development and the tenacity of the women who worked for 20 years to make their co-housing community a reality. In the beginning, they had no experience of developing homes but were equipped with vast enthusiasm and a creative philosophy. In their own words, it was ‘effort, will power, energy, ideas and enthusiasm’ and the knowledge of cohousing from Maria Brenton that kept them going.
OWCH members want to help others develop co-housing projects, and hope the success of New Ground will pave the way. They’re especially keen for local authorities to see the benefits and be more open to this model.
Jesus Hospital Charity alms houses
Alms houses, found all over the world, have been providing homes for those in need for centuries. They are often for older people and tied to a specific trade or geography. Currently, 36,000 people live in alms houses across the UK and more are being built. To see an alternative to OWCH, our Future London Leaders visited alms houses a few doors down from New Ground.
The Jesus Hospital Charity (JHC), set up in 1679, manages 56 properties in Barnet. They offer homes for women over 50 who are in housing need, have limited financial means, can live independently and have a local connection. As with many alms houses, some of the homes are listed and the grounds are immaculate. The JHC maintain 100% occupancy but with no waiting list they are exploring a wider range of avenues to advertise, including a closer relationship with the local authority. In contrast to New Ground, residents have little involvement in the running of the homes, gardens or the range of social events provided; the management team admire the approach by OWCH.
These two visits kicked off of FoL’s Ageing Cities programme, which will look at how housing, planning and regeneration are addressing the needs of the quickest growing population and assess the challenges and opportunities in making sure that London is a great city to grow old in. To find out more, contact Nicola Mathers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on co-housing see: cohousing.org.uk
For more information on alms houses see: almshouses.org