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, preferably in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, who are lesbians over fifty years of age, and would describe themselves as feminist. 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.