In a field adjacent to Bridport Hospital there is something very exciting happening. Groundbreaking is a term used to describe all manner of innovations but on this occasion what is happening is truly ground breaking because emerging from the broken ground is the largest cohousing project in the UK.
A movement that began in Europe has taken hold in North America because it provides some real answers for the increasing number of people who stop to look at where and how they live and at their impact on the environment. Cohousing is a way for a group of people to work together to develop places to live that offer both privacy and community with the values of an old-fashioned neighborhood-safety, independence and mutual concern. Many of these new ventures are up and running and many more are in the planning stages. Delivering more ‘bang for the buck’, this innovative approach to housing is challenging the traditional solutions to the formidable housing problems we face, and it is succeeding, and it is coming to Bridport.
Twelve years ago a group of local people, wanting to provide the opportunity for a more sustainable life, came together to design a cohousing neighbourhood in Bridport. In this popular coastal town, renting or owning property is out of reach for many people, so the group decided to focus on ‘affordable homes for local people’. The cohousing neighbourhood will be called ‘’Hazelmead’’
This scheme demonstrates a very different solution to the UK’s housing problem. Designed to be affordable, high quality, energy efficient, climate resilient and nature friendly, and that is something worth repeating in bold, designed to affordable, high quality energy efficient, climate resilient and nature friendly. Developers across the country need to take note of what is being achieved and stop cutting their schemes to the bone in order to maximise their shareholders return. This short sighted, profit led, model of house building, which can be seen taking place across the country, is all too often failing to deliver homes fit for the future.
I met with Hugh King and Lin Scrannage, both members of the cohousing group, to find out more about this highly innovative housing scheme. They told me the scheme has 56 members (and 25 children) of all ages and backgrounds and many different cultures, and are still actively recruiting new members who want to live at Hazelmead.
They went on to say, “We are building 53 affordable homes to high standards of energy efficiency with solar panels on all the houses and a large battery store and site-wide micro-grid to maximise the use of solar power. This new neighbourhood approach to zero carbon energy generation has been grant-funded by Low Carbon Dorset. The build will be to AECB Silver Standard (almost Passivhaus).
Twenty six of the 1 bed flats and 2,3 and 4 bedroom houses will be for social rent through the housing association. Twenty seven of them will be of leasehold purchase either at 80% of market value or through Help To Buy South, and available from 25% – 75% market value. Bridport Cohousing is the freeholder of the land and, because the highest rate of purchasing a home is 80% and there is no ‘right to buy’ on the rented homes, this will ensure affordability for generations to come.
From the outset of the scheme addressing climate change and biodiversity loss has been central its ethos. In addition, building a community and sharing resources are also seen as two of the most important things we can do for the better and the members of Bridport Cohousing agree to live with these things in mind.
The Common House is an integral part of the design of a cohousing neighbourhood, providing a social hub to which all residents will have access. Many cohousing groups, including BC, find themselves in the position of having to find a creative solution to paying for this vital building because it is not eligible, like the residential houses, for any grants.
It will be available for hire by outside groups, offering a hall suitable for large meetings and workshops, e.g. for learning skills and pathways to employment, as well as for classes such as yoga and creative activities, and for music and dance performances. The hall will also be used for social gatherings and as a dining room for shared meals cooked in the catering-size kitchen, which is such an important part of living in cohousing.
The smaller room will create space to socialise, play, hold smaller meetings and watch films. There will be an office for daily administrative purposes and providing workspaces for residents who work remotely. The community laundry will also be situated in the Common House. This will reduce the need for every household to have a washing machine and be another place to meet informally.
“If the single-family house was designed to spread people out across the landscape, then the Common House is designed to bring them back together. And if it seems that the single-family house was designed to consume energy, time and money, then the Common House can be seen as a way of conserving them all.’’ Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett
In a world where climate change and biodiversity loss are rapidly reaching a critical point it is vital that any new housing development does all it can to mitigate the impact that it has. To that end Bridport Cohousing commissioned Dorset Community Energy to undertake a feasibility study on the viability and implementation of an Energy Supply Company (ESCO) to fund and manage a neighbourhood-wide electricity network using roof mounted PVs, a battery and connection to the local grid. It recommends that by creating an ESCO to supply electricity and using Air Source Heat Pumps for heating, significant monetary and carbon savings could be achieved for the community. The PV array is being paid for by the ESCO which will own and operate the local grid and battery system. This entity is called Hazelmead Community Energy Limited (HMCE) and has now been set up with the support of CEPRO and The Foundry – both specialists in community owned energy. HMCE is funding the development of the microgrid, the PV arrays on all houses and a large Tesla battery pack to maximise the use of solar energy on site and thereby maximise carbon savings.
Every housing development in Bridport from this point on needs to heed this innovative approach to energy supply. The science tells us that we are careering towards climate catastrophe, and the technology is now readily available to play a significant part in mitigating it. Sadly I suspect those in control of delivering other large housing developments in the near future in Bridport will still be delivering homes fuelled by gas and electricity solely from the grid instead of future proofing the homes of their customers by installing greener sources of energy generation as part of the construction.
On July 9th Bridport Cohousing launched a Community Share Offer to the public via an ethical investment platform called Ethex. This is an exciting opportunity for supporters of the project to invest their money in a community-led project which will benefit the wider community as well as receive a good financial return, targeted at 4%pa. To find out more go to: https://www.ethex.org.uk/invest/bridport-cohousing
The offer is aiming to raise £732,000 (with a minimum raise of £136,000) and will help fund the completion of the development by constructing the Common House. It will also pay for two guest rooms to provide short term accommodation for visiting friends and relatives and pay back some outstanding loans that enabled them to buy the phase 2 land back in 2018.
Before visiting the site and meeting Hugh and Lin, I wondered what the Co in Cohousing stood for. I now fully understand that it stands for any of and all of the following: cooperation, collaboration, community, construction, conservation, contemporary, conscious, convincing, collective, connection, comprehensive, consensual, convivial, contextual, convection, comfortable, coexist, and above all courage. The Bridport Cohousing group are a courageous bunch who are showing the rest of the housebuilding industry how it should be done.
I am really impressed by what the Bridport Cohousing group has achieved thus far and am looking forward to having the opportunity to visit the site when it is completed.