cohousing , life in community

26 women, aged 50-87, the Older Women’s Cohousing group, will this week take possession of a block of 25 newly built flats in Union Street, High Barnet. Together they will form a self-managing community, based on the shared values of neighbourliness and mutual support. A mix of home-owners 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 have 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 have joined forces to plan ahead. Most of all, they want to stay in charge of their own lives. They also want 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 the earliest actions they plan is to invite the whole street in for coffee to see the building that has been under construction, causing inconvenience for a considerable time. They intend to enjoy becoming 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. More here,

cohousing , in the media

College Students in the GO Kitchen


Great Oak has finally, after years of trying to make the financing work, installed 19.44kw of Photovoltaic solar panels on our common garage roofs to feed our Common House electric meter (our local utility, DTE, requires the inverters to be tied to the single largest consuming meter for net metering). As of today, after various permitting and logistical hurdles, not to speak of the cloudy weather, we finally have some impressive generation!

GO South facing Garage Bank solar panels

The bright sunshine and low humidity today means that even though the sun is low in the sky, the panels, while producing about 12kw, or only about 50% of their rated capacity, are still producing more than the Common House is consuming currently, around 3kw:

GO CH current usage of electricity around noon on 12/24/2013

which means that since the panels are producing more than the instantaneous production, and that we do not have batteries to store the excess, they are feeding that back to the electric grid and GO is being credited for that — so the electric meter is running “backwards” (or would if we had the old analog style meter, but instead it shows a negative consumption instead on the digital meter!)

GO CH electric meter negative consumption on 12/24/2013

and for those interested in some details, we have 4 Renovo 5kw inverters tied together, installed by Srienergy, and financed out of our electrical operating budget for the Common House with the capital coming from our Great Oak Cohousing Association reserve fund.

Here is some detail from one of the inverters:


The following answers to this question have been provided by members of the Great Oak, Sunward, and Touchstone cohousing communities.

– Seniors have more time to give to community (if healthy).

– Accumulated experience can be useful to younger residents (life lessons).

– Provide grandparent role and understanding of aging to young children – continuum of life.

– Can share hobbies, skills, travel, historical perspective through stories.

– Have lived longer in groups – have ideas for getting along in close quarters.

– Time flexibility during day.

– Different knowledge.

– Conscientious about jobs and committees.  Work ethic built in.

– Grandparent figures.

– Value independence.

– Homes more available for meetings.

– Seniors bring to cohousing a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with all other community members.

– Have a strong work ethic and a keen sense of responsibility, and are more likely to fulfill their obligations and perform assigned duties.

– Seniors are usually no strangers to adversity and struggle and will not run at the first sign of trouble, but will be persistent and stay with a situation until it is resolved.

– Seniors know what it is to be committed to a cause or a purpose, and will find ways to be productive and useful to that cause.

– In general, people are happier when they are needed, no matter what the age.  For Seniors, it gives them a new lease on life, and keeps them active and involved in things going on around them.

– We have time to spend on projects, committees, and work.  We have experience in life and work to contribute when issues arise.

– We lend stability to the community.

– It is good for the community is so far as keeping our world big and preventing age segregation as it can naturally occur – just as other types of segregation can occur.

– It allows us the opportunity to naturally and easily come into contact with, and develop meaningful relationships with Seniors.  It allows us to lend a hand to Seniors which can help them age in place – at their home – for much longer periods of time.

– It gives us the wonderful, enriching opportunity to learn about a world we/our children never experienced – hearing stories, anecdotes, recipes, etc., of days gone by.

– Seniors have both wisdom and the time to share with us.  What a wonderful gift!

– Seniors have more time to do longer-term tasks.

– Work ethic built in (follow thru).  Experience in life.

– Often available during the day.

– Seniors bring life experiences to the community.

– Seniors are more responsible about getting jobs done.

– We can offer child care to young families.

– Seniors, having lived longer, have a certain amount of wisdom to offer younger members.

– Seniors tend to be conscientious in regard to doing their assigned jobs and always present at committee meetings.

– Seniors can be grandparent figures to children.

– Others may need our help.  For example, letting the utility person in your unit, sign for a package, jump start your car, and many other small jobs where you need another person’s help.

– Having somebody there most of the time to help when needed or just to keep an eye on the community.

– We have had experience with some of the challenges that come with living.

– Seniors have a chance of being around during the day to help in an emergency, receive packages, notice/help visitors, etc.

-Seniors often have more time flexibility than those who are working on a regular schedule and/or who are raising children.

– Seniors have time to help others.

– Many Seniors are experienced parents who recognize that everything does not need to be a federal case.

– It is important for kids to be around all generations.  For example, my kids are not afraid to be around all ages, and around death and dying.

– It is important for kids to see you can be a vital member of the community, no matter what age.  Also, children can experience how to treat people of different ages.

– Seniors have diverse experience and backgrounds.

– Great Oak Seniors play a grandparent role for me.

– Seniors are often available during the day – often are the people who respond to requests for help at this time of day.

– I like stories and remembrances.  I like sitting around the table at dinner and hearing people’s stories.

– Most of the Seniors have owned property before, and have an understanding of the practicalities involved.

– Most joyful “from the gut” comments about my kids have come from the Seniors.

– I am a Senior – I would like help getting to know the families in the community.

– I appreciate adult interactions with my child – particularly adults who are not currently parenting.

– Intergenerational interaction is nourishing to the spirit.


The following answers to this question have been provided by members of the Great Oak, Sunward, and Touchstone cohousing communities.

– Intergenerational interaction is nourishing to the spirit.

– Provides context of reality for us – multi-generational living in the wider world.

– Gives us many opportunities to contribute (maybe more than others).

– Keeps us active.

– Provides support from our peers and from younger members of the community in times of need.

– Gives opportunities to be needed and useful with resulting fostering of self-esteem.

– Provides outlet for accumulated wisdom (we hope).

– Gives all benefit of community that is closer (more intentional) than a neighborhood.

– Provides companionship, especially for singles and especially during the day.

– Shared resources and shared knowledge.

– Help with physical tasks and with technology.

– All different ages.

– Fresh ideas.

– You can help others and others can help you.
– Safety; companionship; resources

– Companionship: easy chances for interaction and involvement with neighbors.

– If multigenerational, a wider perspective than that of my age cohort alone.

– Living proof of the trends in changing lifestyles.

– A chance of finding someone who can lift something heavy, fix something mechanical, or help seniors with the latest electronic technology.

– Those of us who are retired like to know that there are people around during the day whom we know.

– It’s good to be able to live with all different ages.

– It is good to be intergenerational.  We enjoy interacting with children and younger families.

– Younger members can do the physically demanding jobs.

– Companionship/support from others of similar age.

– Answers, solutions, and resources for life concerns (references).

– Help with physical/technological tasks (when offered and asked for).

– People around during the day.

– Cohousing is good for seniors because it keeps both them and others in an age integrated environment which is important in an age segregated society.

– When elders are able to look out their window and walk out their door or fully participate in an intergenerational activity, it keeps their world “big” and increases the quality of their lives.  As their world becomes or remains bigger they feel more of a sense of purpose, and as they share their wisdom, more of a sense of usefulness.

– Interactions and relationships with others of all ages is what keeps us alive!

– Living in a cohousing community also gives seniors the security of knowing that there is help available from a younger person.

– Provides 24/7 opportunities for diversity.

– It’s good for seniors to be challenged by the various younger generations as to art, music, politics, technology, etc.

– The very nature of cohousing keeps members physically more active than in a conventional neighborhood: hours of prescribed community work; walking to garage, dumpster, garden, the common house.

– Social and caring advantages: we all know each other and can feel comfortable requesting help or to borrow items; we can feel useful for the same reasons and feel needed; social activities with other ages are most welcome.

– Cohousing allows seniors to maintain their independence for a longer period of time while also providing a safety net of others who are willing to help out when needed.

– Seniors can feel a sense of worth and belonging. They can impart wisdom and promote a sense of stability.

– Because I like people around me from all ages, not just the bracket I’m in.

– I want to hear different thoughts and ideas.

– I have no desire to live in a nice house or condo in a nice neighborhood and not know the people on my block.

– One never knows when I may need another’s help.

– Someday I will die.  I prefer to die in a place I helped build.


The Grounds Committee worked on the following projects during 2010.
– Alternative meeting on Grounds master plan – Feb. 3

– New orchard with 3 apple trees, 2 pear trees, and 2 cherry trees, between unit #10 and #11

– Compost bins added on east end of community

– Mudjacking to lift several sidewalks

– Hot tub fence mural of the great oak
– Removed oak trees from native plant area

– Lighting added along pathway, 2 on the east end shade structure, 1 outside the laundry room, 1 on hot tub fence, 1 at east entrance to parking lot (on unit #31), and 1 bollard near play structure

– Bat house added near play field

– Flagstone path laid leading to common house porch

– Trees added on north patio


The following agreements were consensed upon at community meetings in 2010.  For more information please see the Book of Agreements.

2010-01-31   Workshop operating rules

2010-04-19   One time exception to th Late Association Fee Agreement re: when to place a lien

2010-06-21   Process committee revised mandate

2010-07-19   Alternative meeting proposal (renewal)

2010-11-15   Structure Reserve Fund increase at $10 per year

2010-11-29   Budget for 2011


– Created and hung collage posters of life at Great Oak in the common house dining room

– New policy – NO Guff in common house

– Black recliner loaned for use in sitting room

– Received gift of a wooden kitchen for the kids room

– Installed drip trays under soap dispensers

– Created and hung mural in kids room

– Purchased blinds for game room, sitting room, and remainder of the dining room

– Bought industrial vacuum

– Replaced locks on common house entrance doors

– Revamped budget process to better track income for tax puposes


– New washer/dryer; laundry room refitted with shelving, cabinets, and table top
– Game room improvements – painting, ceiling fan added, ceiling mounted projector added
– Double entry doors replaced
– Entryway floor beautifully painted
– Continuation of energy saving improvements begun in 2008
– Child Supervision Policy adopted
– Began 5 year planning process

Next Page »