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Norwich to get pioneering house scheme?

PUBLISHED: 16:00 04 May 2010 | UPDATED: 10:14 02 July 2010

Co-housing group meeting in Hethersett. Lucy Hall, secretary.

Co-housing group meeting in Hethersett. Lucy Hall, secretary.

Jon Welch

Norwich could become the first place in East Anglia to set up a pioneering new housing project, which aims to improve community spirit by bringing families closer together.

Norwich could become the first place in East Anglia to set up a pioneering new housing project, which aims to improve community spirit by bringing families closer together.

The scheme, entitled Cohousing and first launched in the 1960s in Denmark, sees a community of dozens of families come together to live in their own homes but share facilities.

Cars are usually kept on the edge of the development, leaving the area traffic-free and safe for children to play and meals are eaten together to harness a sense of community spirit.

So far projects have been set up all over Europe, but there are just eight in the UK and none in East Anglia.

However, a group called Norwich Housing has been set up to look for a site large enough for 25 to 30 homes within seven miles of the city centre.

Today, it was revealed how talks are taking place with local authorities, housing associations and developers, including the company behind the proposed “eco-town” at Rackheath.

Group secretary Lucy Hall said: “Cohousing is about getting back to the kind of friendly neighbourhood people would like to live in where you know your neighbours and you get to share some facilities.

“There is a lot of isolation today with people just living in their own homes and not knowing anybody. Families often move away and don't live in the same area any more. This is about bringing the local community back together.

“At the heart of it is the common house, which is a shared space where you can have meals, the kids can play and you can celebrate events like birthdays. It's cheaper for everyone because you can share the same lawnmower, for instance, rather than everybody having their own.”

The schemes allow privacy but encourage community. Each development has a common house, a place for meeting, socialising and sharing meals, but people live within their own homes.

Norwich Cohousing was set up at the start of last year and so far has about 45 members.

Ms Hall, 53, of Dereham Road, Norwich, said she had lived in communal houses before, but not in a cohousing scheme.

“They are quite well-established in Europe and North America; not really in Britain yet, but it's coming. It's quite difficult for groups to set up and it takes quite a few years to get something built.

“We haven't got land yet but we have looked at a few potential sites; it's finding the right one and getting planning permission that's the challenge. The ideal site would be about 25 to 30 dwellings, which would translate to about 0.5 to 0.75 hectares (1.23 to 1.85 acres).

“We're hoping to include affordable housing, which would most likely involve working with housing associations. We've been talking to Building Partnerships about Rackheath, and because they have such a large masterplan they might be able to accommodate us as part of their initial building stage, but they have just been discussions so far.

“Conversion is another possibility. It might be something we could do to an old hospital, school or office building. There's a real swell of interest. I'm fully confident that we will have at least one scheme up and running, but I don't want to raise the hopes of anybody who is in dire housing need because these things take years, not months.”

To find out more, visit www.norwichcohousing.org.uk

Do you live in an interesting or unusual community? Contact reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email jon.welch@archant.co.uk

Cohousing brings individuals and families together in groups but allows them the privacy of living in their own homes.

Communities are set up and run by members, who are consciously committed to living as a community. Developments are designed to encourage social contact and a sense of neighbourhood.

Residents share common space and amenities including laundries, heating systems, guest rooms and transport.

There are already eight fully-established cohousing communities in the UK: in Stroud, Gloucestershire; Laughton, near Lewes, East Sussex; Rotherham; Wiltshire and Dorset, and three smaller schemes.

It is estimated that there are 25 to 30 cohousing groups looking setting up projects, and a further 60 loose coalitions interested in cohousing.

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