Things are moving fast…

Things are moving fast…

We’ve formed a partnership with one of Britain’s largest housing providers, L & Q, and together we are pushing ahead with plans for the very first cohousing scheme for LGBT elders in the UK.  This article, recently published on the L & Q website, shows their commitment to the project: https://www.lqgroup.org.uk/lgbt-cohousing-scheme. The aim is for LOLC to co-design and co-produce the scheme with L & Q. This is very different from how L & Q normally operates, and we are new to this too, so there will be a lot of learning on both sides, but we are confident it will be a productive relationship.

The Greater London Assembly’s Community Led Housing Hub has been very supportive. Members of the Hub have offered guidance and practical help throughout the process. We have also benefitted from the experience of others, in particular OWCH, the pioneering women’s co-housing development in Barnet. Maria Brenton, who was one of the driving forces of OWCH, has been funded by the GLA’s Community Housing Fund to act as our mentor and help us avoid the pitfalls of community led housing.

Our project really took shape this in 2020. In the spring, with the blessing of L & Q, we commissioned two architecture firms to come up with feasibility studies for a site earmarked for us in East London, and on the strength of these we chose Pollard Thomas Edwards as our architects. They designed OWCH’s scheme, New Ground, and their vision of communality and their understanding of cohousing and coproduction swung it for us. This has been the most exciting stage so far, as we start to see what our new community might look like, and we are looking forward to working with PTE on the design.

The feasibility study is just that, a roughing out of how the development might work rather than a finished design. There will be plenty more discussion before a design is complete, but the study has given us something tangible to work  with, and we have something we can actually see and imagine ourselves inhabiting.

The next stage is to get our finances in place. A large proportion of the funding will come from the sale of the existing homes of women who will be owner/occupiers within the scheme. That won’t cover the total cost though, and we will also need interim funding. We are applying for funds from The GLA’s Community Housing Fund, and we are fundraising for improved accessibility, increased levels of sustainability, and the flats, which will be available for London Affordable Rent. We are in discussion with the GLA, and noises are positive so far.

Once our funding is confirmed, we can start the design process. We will be working closely with PTE to ensure that we get the development that we want and need. We are hoping that if all goes well we can start the build in late in 2022, with completion by 2024/5.

The plan is for 25 dwellings. There will be ten one bedroom flats, seven of which will be rented at London Affordable Rent, and three outright sale.  And there will be fifteen two bedroom units, of two different sizes. These will all be for sale, but Older Persons Shared Ownership will be available for at least two of them. Full Members of LOLC, of which there are fifteen now, have specified what their needs are, and have been notionally allocated a flat, and Associate Members, of which there are five currently, have also been notionally allocated a flat, and they will have to transition to full membership of LOLC to be able to fully join the scheme and move in. This leaves several flats unallocated, and we are actively looking for new members.

It is important to us that we maintain the diversity of the group. Our roots and heritages stretch around the world; from islands in the Caribbean (Jamaica, Martinique and Barbuda) to Latin America (Mexico) to Europe (Spain, Wales, England, Scandinavia, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, France and Poland). We are all based in London now and have each lived here for between 5 and 50+ years. We’ve also lived in all corners of the British Isles and beyond, and several of us are migrants to the UK. Some of us were the first in our families to stay on at school beyond the age of 15 or go to college/university and some of us got our first degree in our 50s. Some of us are well, and able bodied, and others are less so.

We are looking for new members who live in London, who are lesbians over fifty years of age, and would describe themselves as feminist.  We are open to anyone who fits this bill.  If this is you, please go to the Getting Involved page of our website, and use the contact form to get in touch with us. There won’t be any obligation to join, but we can arrange a meeting to let you know more about the project. We are keen to expand the diversity of our group, and would encourage women from ethnic minorities to get in touch.

Getting a scheme like this off the ground takes time and effort. Sometimes it has seemed as if all we talk about is LOLC business, but we have made space to get together socially, and we are getting creative in making our zoom socials engaging and uplifting, including finding hidden talents amongst our members.  Group building is essential for the success of the project and we take it seriously but also insist on having fun.

We would love you to join us.

Winter 2019/20

We’ve been busy!

Our outreach work to make our group more diverse and more representative of the older lesbian community in London has paid off! We have welcomed several new black and minority ethnic members to the group. There are now 18 of us, for 16 units, out of the total 25 we are looking to develop. We will recruit further once we have a better idea of the likely end-size and configuration of the project, but in the meantime we will be inviting some of our friends and supporters to become ‘associate members’ and they will be next in line for consideration once we have a contract  with a developer in place.

We’ve had a lot of work to do this year with Housing Associations, Local Authorities and the GLA Community-led housing hub, but we’ve had time for fun as well. There’s a burgeoning sporty subgroup who’ve been playing table tennis and badminton, and an amateur boxing star!

We’ve had a few days and nights out as well, including a picnic in Regents Park in the summer, and a games night in a Tottenham pub.

More recently we joined in the 40th anniversary celebrations of Southall Black Sisters, for an evening of stirring poetry from survivors of domestic violence, with responses from published poets including Jackie Kay and Miss Yankee.

And we’ve just had our end of year lunch which includes Secret Solstice Sister – a Secret Santa/Lucky Dip hybrid where we all buy a present and stick it in a bag and take turns to pick one out. It’s amazing what you can get for a fiver.

We’re pleased to say that this year we have been in discussion with L & Q, one of the largest UK housing associations. Through their strategic partnership work they have helped us to develop our project. We have been exploring sites with L & Q and have been meeting with them monthly to develop the project – with workshops on land and planning, drawing up more detailed design briefs, planning ‘routes to development’ and 30-year allocation policies! Although there is currently a pause on development, L&Q are providing ongoing support and we are also seeking funding ourselves to help in the development of the project.

We are in discussion with several local authorities with a view to finding a site. This year Waltham Forest has been extremely helpful and supportive and helped identify potential sites which we have explored. In June this summer we took part in their Housing Strategy and Housing Compact launch.

We haven’t found anything that is quite right yet, but we hope to explore one of the WF sites further in 2020. We are also talking to Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Haringey and have looked at sites in Newham and Hackney. We will keep on looking across boroughs and try to raise funds to secure a site. If anyone knows of vacant sites in East and North East London please let us know. And even better if you know of keen funders!

We are grateful for the ongoing support of the GLA’s London Community Led Housing Hub. Hub members Lev Kerrimol, Rowan Mackay and Gemma Holyoak have been generous with their time and expertise and the Hub has provided Maria Brenton (of Older Women’s Cohousing OWCH fame) as our adviser. The Hub’s support has enabled us to develop our work with housing providers – in fact we would not be where we are now if it wasn’t for their help. They funded a day’s training for the whole of LOLC with OWCH to understand the development and running of such a cohousing project. A brilliant, inspiring day. The Hub also supported tours of the OWCH development for a number of L&Q staff who are working with us, for them to experience first-hand a wonderful cohousing scheme for older women.

Through the hub we have linked to Community Led Homes who have published an interesting report recently, including an interview with one of LOLC members https://www.communityledhomes.org.uk/home-aloners-report

The Hub has set up a group of specialists, including Pollard Thomas Edward architects, Innisfree and WECH Housing Associations, National Custom and Self Build Association and the local borough of Waltham Forest, who have advised us bi-annually on our plans. We cannot thank them enough for their generosity.

In the new year, we will develop our ‘associate membership’, continue to look for suitable sites, work with L&Q and develop our funding strategy with the GLA/CLH hub, to help embark on some serious fundraising. We welcome your ideas and suggestions.

Happy Solstice, Chanukah, Xmas and New Year to you all. Thanks again for all your support and look forward to working with you more in 2020. A whole new decade!

LOLCohousing Newsletter December 2018

We thought you might like a progress report…

You might have seen the BBC Inside Out programme on cohousing on 15th October. If not here is the link to the cohousing segment on Youtube. https://youtu.be/OLPnNPP3Kqg. It mostly features OWCH, but we get a look-in too.

There was a great video piece on the BBC News site as well, which featured Jude. Have a look here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-london-45836995/lgbt-h. Not sure how long this will be available.

So, to bring you up to date…

We have been working closely with the GLA Community Led Housing Hub. They have been helping us to develop and refine our business plan and to work out a strategy to take the project forward. Our next step is to find a housing association or registered housing provider which is a good fit for us, and we are beginning to sound them out.

We are fifteen strong at the moment, and as you may know, recruitment is paused while we undertake outreach work to make our membership more diverse. If you know black or minority ethnic women over the age of 50 who might be interested, please tell them to get in touch.

We are working hard to realise our vision. We meet regularly as a group, to hammer out policy, and to plan and organise, and we meet in smaller task groups every month, to push the project forward. We are all volunteers and there is more work than we can handle, so we are fund-raising for a project manager to steer us through the next stages.

We’ll keep you posted. And if you think you can help, please get in touch. Use the form here: https://lolcohousing.co.uk/getting-involved/

And in case you thought we were all work and no play, here are some of us on a group outing to the stage adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s ‘Fun Home’ in September at the Young Vic.