The Sussex Cohousing development team went up en masse to visit Marmalade Lane on Sunday. Marmalade lane - or K1 as it is officially named - is the recently-completed cohousing project in Cambridge. The developers for the project were Town, the same group we are currently working with. Walking around it is the closest thing we could get to experiencing what our site might eventually look like.
The Marmalade Lane site captures many of the features that our group has already identified as important to us. A common house, a large shared kitchen, shared green space, guest bedrooms in the common house and a variety of sizes of homes, which includes flats, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom properties.
The group was met by Frances Wright, a first-phase denizen and member of Marmalade Lane’s legal and finance team for the past 5 years or so. Frances had several other members with her to answer questions and lead us on a tour of the buildings and surroundings.
What struck me upon arrival was its distinct identity. My big concern was: could a development like this, if it were delivered as part of much larger development, still retain a distinct identity? I am happy to say that as soon as I turned the corner and entered the common lane, with two banks of terraced houses either side, it felt distinctly enclosed. This bodes well for our own project as members of our group have expressed concerns in the past that a site such as this would not work for our project.
I was also struck by the architectural distinctiveness of the project. It looked a little austere in places, which may be down to its newness - people only started taking occupancy in December 2018. The green spaces have not grown in or been cultivated fully, and although kids’ bikes lay around here and there, people have only just started to put plant pots and other nick-nacks around. The walls of the common buildings are also just beginning to be populated with community art and other decorations.
Everything looked clean, bright and solidly built. Wood panelling on the stairways in the common house was particularly attractive, as was the design of the main meeting area in the common house, which had an atrium-style elevation to it, looking up to internal windows of the ‘quiet room’ and multi-purpose yoga (etc.) room above. My overall impression of the common house was that it was excellent, well designed and generous in size. The guest bedrooms were also very comfortable looking.
The houses seemed well-built and above the current standards of commercial housing. The occupants we spoke to were impressed by the soundproofing - telling us they didn’t feel like they were living in a terrace at all. The heating system, the name of which I forget but it recovered heat from air drawn, filtered and circulated throughout the dwelling, I believe - was also said to be excellent, keeping the air fresh but pleasant in the winter and, so far, cool in the summer. A small downside I heard reported was the visibility and proximity of neighbours’ doorways, back and front, which sometimes made people feel a bit ‘on top of one another’. This was a niggle rather than a major complaint.
Where the project seemed to be encountering problems was in its social organisation and official communications. Although the information I got wasn’t detailed, it seemed that finding ways to communicate (WhatsApp, email, Slack) that was accessible to all but not overwhelming was a major challenge. Slack seemed to be the best option - this might be an app we could look into.
Regarding K1’s social organisation - by which I mean the processes it has in place for sharing and conflict resolution - this seemed to be feeling the stress already. Because the project has very little in the way of selection or induction (as far as I learned), agreement or consensus around practicalities such as communal cooking and use of the laundry facilities, and overseeing children in particular, seemed to be causing strain in the community, even at this relatively early stage. Discussing this with Mike Hall, we both agreed on the importance of continuing to develop our ‘restorative circle’ and other activities that will grow our skills around communication, which means not merely the nice stuff. Learning to talk - and learning to argue - compassionately, empathically and effectively, is not a top-dressing but of the essence, a key to creating a community that will run without endless meetings and wrangling over issues that, while emotive, could be resolved concisely if the foundations of understanding and skillful speech are well established before-time.
I’m Mike, one of the 15 Development Team (DT) members in Sussex Cohousing, and this is my first blogpost. The specialism I bring to the team is around contemporary human resource / organisational development practices. I guess that’s the main ‘professional lens’ through which I see our budding community.
I wanted to reflect something I’ve been noticing about the evolving nature of our recruitment practice, and why this suggests to me that if you are seriously interested in becoming part of our community, you’re better applying to join our DT sooner rather than later…
Recruitment Waves 1 to 3 - ‘the Visionaries’
So I’m a relatively ‘new’ recruit to the development team. I started coming to the regular Sussex Cohousing socials about four years ago, gradually got lured in more and more by the various social community dangling carrots, and successfully applied to join the DT about two years ago.
I haven’t spent much time researching the groups history prior to my involvement because, to be honest, there’s more than enough to do to keep the thing moving forward. The next couple of paras are therefore more ‘Mike’s interpretation of what might have happened’ rather than something more factually accurate.
In our longevity parlance, I’m a mere ‘Wave 4’ whippersnapper. The sage and god-like Julian is the only remaining Wave 1 survivor, he’s been involved at the helm of Sussex Cohousing since about the time that the Romans decided Hadrian’s Wall was a good idea. Before I saw the light, subsequent Waves led to Wendy and Rich (Wave 2) then Marci and Jenny (Wave 3) joining the team. Others have come and gone along the way, as is the nature of any project like this, but these five lovely people have stayed the course, and are the human bedrock on which Sussex Cohousing stands.
Now I don’t know the history behind their joining process as yet, but my guess would be that theirs was an emergent coalescence of like-minded visionaries who saw the possibilities of the idea and started committing their time to make it happen together. Growth and expansion was gradual and largely individual.
Recruitment Wave 4 - ‘Supporter bloc-mining, based on shared values’
My arrival, alongside other Wave 4 newbies Adam, Lisa and Tricia, was the result of the projects first targeted outward campaign to grow in numbers. The sense I had of the recruitment ethos at that point in time was a relatively wide-angled machine gun approach of ‘we feel ready to expand in size considerably for the first time, so let’s see who else we know is interested’. For sure, the recruitment process was considered and thorough, it wasn’t just a case of ‘we’ll accept anyone’ (and they didn’t). But it was primarily based around similarity of values and alignment to the vision, rather than anything more specific.
As a result, the development team doubled in size, and subsequently spent a couple of years bedding us in, becoming more focused and organised, and assimilating a greater workload. This led to sufficient progress that we reached another recruitment tipping point of ‘oooh look, there’s now too much work for the nine of us to do, and we know we ultimately want to be part of a community of 30-40 people, so why don’t we try increasing our development team size again?’
Recruitment Wave 5 - ‘As 4 above, but now with the added bonus of skill matching’
Consequently, we completed Wave 5 of recruitment last December, and have been delighted to welcome another six new faces to our development team - Caroline, Sally, Sarah, Simon, Tammy and Tom (tip - you can see their pics and blogs on our website).
For Wave 5 though, not only had the project evolved, but so had our recruitment process. It was still targeted primarily at those we already knew and had had some involvement with us - mostly as paying supporters of our project who had been coming to our socials for some time. But this time we were more organised in terms of really considering the skill set of applicants, and offering them places in the most suitable of our three ‘Task Circles’ accordingly. We’d identified that this was where we needed the extra capacity, so this is what we pro-actively considered. For example, Sarah and Simon offered us backgrounds and experience in marketing and communications respectively, so we offered them places in our Community Circle, where these skills would be most suited. It’s much easier to keep people focused and engaged when they are doing more of what they are generally good at anyway.
Originally, Wave 5 had seven, not six, successful applicants. Unfortunately for us though, our seventh DT place offer was both accepted and then soon after declined, as it turned out the applicant got a better offer elsewhere. Sad for us, but we were delighted for them. And that brings you pretty much up-to-date.
To be honest, that departure left us in a bit of a capacity pickle; the person’s skill set meant we had assigned them to the Task Circle where we currently most needed more hands on deck - Legal & Finance. Consequently, we’ve taken the opportunity to evolve our recruitment strategy once more, and this has led to…
Recruitment Wave 6 - ‘Pro-actively targeting specific skill sets’
Gone are the days of mass recruitment, with small posses of us all throwing our hat into the ring at the same time. We’ve gotten more organised and mature in our approach to recruitment, and are thus now targeting accordingly. We know where our gap is, so that’s what we are trying to recruit to.
Our first port of call is still our ‘paying supporter base’ - they’re the folk who’ve already put their money where their mouth is, so they’re the guys we’re always likely to look to first. In one sense, we see our supporter base as our ‘Cohousing community kindergarten’ - full of great people that we want to get more involved with the project. So if you are reading this and thinking ‘how do I jump on board?’, this is the thing to do. Join our supporter base and come to some of our socials. Get a feel for whether you like the cut of our jib, and let us experience and get to know you too. This two-way dance is informal recruitment at its best.
Hence our recent call-out email asking for expressions of interest in joining our Legal & Finance Circle. Now we know the type of capabilities the project needs at this point in time, so that’s what we’re targeting.
‘Where next?’ you might wonder. If you gaze into our crystal ball, this is what you might see….
Recruitment Wave 7 - ‘Pro-actively targeting diversity, to create a sustainable community’
We’ve always said that involvement in the project, at whatever level, is no guarantee of a place in the community when it finally gets built. People will continue to come and go, hopefully enjoying the journey while they are on board, and then heading off in different directions. That’s simply the nature of projects like ours. Stability and natural turnover are two sides of the same coin, both essential for a community to sustain itself and renew. There will likely always be opportunities for new members to join and live in Sussex Co-housing.
Underneath this though, there is also a tougher message. It’s this - the more organised and sociocratic we become, and the closer we get to the reality of our co-housing community - the harder it will become to get on board our bus.
There are two factors that lead me to this conclusion. The first is a simple arithmetic one. There are currently 15 of us in the DT and our plan is to create a Cohousing community of about 35 dwellings, give or take. So the more people who join the team, the fewer the places likely to be available to non-DT members.
Moreover though, we are a considered, intentional bunch, and we are clear in our aim to create a sustainable, inter-generational community. We have our own Diversity statement (readily available on our website) to reflect this.
Recently, we completed our first in-depth survey of the demographic make-up of our current development team and supporter base. We are about to embark on an exercise we call ‘community visioning’ - where we take our Diversity statement and use it to determine the ‘ideal’ demographic makeup of our future community. We’ll probably do some of the work involved at one of our future social events (keep an eye on our website for details).
Once we’ve nailed that, we’ll then do a ‘gap analysis’ to understand the difference between who is presently involved in the project, and who we’d ideally like to be involved. This doesn’t mean that if we find we have far too many white, middle class, forty-something Crystal Palace season ticket holders in our midst that we are going to purge any of them (although personally speaking, I do think that would be an excellent idea) - but it does mean that our future recruitment practice is likely to evolve in the direction of ‘positive discrimination’.
For example, we have no-one under 30 in our development team at present. In truth, this isn’t a great surprise - at that age, accommodation is generally more of an immediate concern, and our culture tends to promote more exciting, visceral, hedonistic, ‘here and now’ activities for young people to spend their time on. Two Sunday mornings a month discussing things like common house functionality and pet quotas hardly fits the bill.
But as our project nears fruition, accommodation immediacy will become a distinct possibility, and we would hope to attract a younger demographic element to become part of our community then. And we will need to proactively get out there and engage with this target audience - via social media, talks at local colleges / universities and so on. Similarly with young families, another demographic that we know we are very light on just now.
Recruitment Wave 8?
We don’t know exactly what will come out of this ‘community visioning / gap analysis’ yet, but what is clear is that as we grow and evolve towards becoming a real, tangible, cohousing community, our recruitment practices will continue to evolve in sophistication and focus alongside us, in order to create the kind of vibrant and sustainable social environment we all crave.
A mixture of development team members and supporters – ten in all – came together for ten-pin bowling fun on Wednesday 13th March. There was a real mix of ages, gender and abilities, which was good to see.
Many of our socials involve us sharing our thoughts and ideas about cohousing and related subjects over tea and snacks, which is really valuable of course, but this time we opted for a bit of action and silliness, and I can safely say that all who came found it refreshing!
Julian and Rich were commanding players – Julian surely deserves the ‘best strike celebration’ award – but all of us found our eye and bowled above our initial estimations of skills!
The evening gave us a chance to see each other in a different light and to bond in ways that engaged more than our minds and our knowledge. On the surface, experiences such as these are just great fun, but beneath that they establish the ‘community glue’ that generates empathy, solidarity and resilience for the future; when, inevitably, challenges will arise that can only be resolved by drawing on the fund of fellow-feeling, trust and understanding that we have paid into in our lighter times and activities.
Our community circle is planning lots more cool and interesting stuff to do – and we’re always open to ideas, of course. If you have suggestions, get in touch, or if you want to join us for our next social, whether you are a member or supporter or have only just happened upon us, flippin’ well do! We’d love to see you, to learn more about you, and to whoop you at any and every game – oops, did I say that last bit out loud?
Next social: Sunday 14thApril, 2019, The Avenue Bridge Club, Third Ave, Hove BN3 2PB – open to all comers.
Cohousing is about people coming together, and we're thrilled to see it happening so heartily!
Our Development Team (those who actively work on the project) has grown again this Winter to 15 people. We've also had a steadily growing list of Supporters (who pay a small monthly subscription of £5 to support the project and gain access to certain restricted events like workshops and 'internal' socials, are kept more up-to-date with what's going on and will be first in line to be considered for joining the Development Team).
So, to celebrate, we thought we'd give a snapshot of the lovely people investing to help realise our project. You can read more about who everyone is, and why cohousing appeals to them, by clicking peoples faces on our 'Who we are' page on our website!
There is a day workshop on Sociocracy, in Brighton on 24 Feb led by practitioner, trainer and writer Ted J Rau on a rare visit from the US. Ted co-founded Sociocracy for Alland co-wrote the Sociocracy manual Many Voices One Song.
Sociocracy is a system for organising together effectively, based on inclusion and efficiency. We use it in Sussex Cohousing. This workshop - for people with some experience or none - will really boost your understanding of Sociocracy and ways to work together.
For Christmas this year we wanted to take our socials to another level. So just before Christmas, 19 of us gathered to collaboratively set-up, cook and eat our first community feast!
Eating together as a community is often a core binding experience for cultivating 'community glue'. We're hoping they'll be a real and regular commitment to cooking and eating together once we have the physical community space that we're working towards. This experience was an out and out success, and was enjoyable on a range of levels, and bodes well for future foodie gatherings.
We had three teams making it happen - room set-up and decoration, cooking and clear-up - though in reality everyone simply pitched in as and when needed to make it all go swimmingly. Here below is our cooking team that make an utterly scrumptious and varied feast that catered for everyone's dietary and culinary needs.
It was a heart-warming day and we look forward to many more meals like it, though perhaps with a few less dishes on an ordinary community cook-up!
Most of our newly expanded Development Team, now comprising 15 members, gathered for a days workshop in December with local green architect Robin Hillier to explore the design considerations for 'Common Area' of our cohousing project.
Common areas are one of the key elements that make a cohousing project. They are the shared spaces and facilities that knit a community together, and facilitate togetherness. They are also the benefits that can be enjoyed beyond the nuclear dwelling that most of us live in.
What became clear on the day was how many things there are to think about, so we'll be working together through 2019 at a series of workshops to get clearer on what common areas we'd like included in our cohousing project, and what they might look and feel like.
Perhaps the most pressing consideration is to what degree we'd like to minimise the size and facilities of our private dwellings in order to maximise the size and facilities included in the common or shared areas. It's a philosophical position that will be interesting to understand the practical implications of. We'll be sure to communicate decisions we make along the way.
Diversity is something that people in the group have always felt was implicit in our Principles or our Mission. In fact there is no specific reference to diversity in either. Addressing this question head on lead us to ask, what is it about diversity that we feel is important. We recognised that as a group we desired to live in a diverse community: that a community that is created by a group of people who have different experiences, backgrounds, needs and knowledge would be a stronger community. We felt strongly that as long as someone shared our commitment to our Mission and Principles that there should be no aspect of anyone’s identity that should prevent them from participating in the project, though we are aiming for certain kinds of mixture. As the project develops it will be imperative that the project continues to reflect on if it is achieving this aspiration.
Intentional community, building our vision
An integral part of the project is intentionally building a community. As the project gets evermore developed, we decided some key areas where we want diversity. These will be used as some guiding parameters for when we are considering applications for people to be part of the community.
We are strongly committed to, and passionate about, inter-generational living. We think that dynamic interactions between generations gives a fuller life experience to all those involved. We will therefore seek to maintain a balance of all age groups within our community as far as possible.
In addition to ensuring a reasonable gender balance, we recognise and embrace Brighton’s global position at the forefront of gender identity diversity, and will actively seek to make the community inclusive to all, with no one gender dominating.
Our group is committed to finances not being a barrier to participation. As part of our financial inclusion policy we are committed to offering a staircased model of home ownership. Some people will be buying their property, some part owning with others renting. This rent will be set at genuinely affordable rates.
Family composition size:
Different households live different lifestyles; we feel that by seeking different household compositions, the community will be able to offer more support for a whole range of different interests and needs.
Last weekend a group of us from Sussex Cohousing, along with a group from Cohousing Upon Tyne, had the pleasure of a site tour around Cambridge based cohousing project, Marmalade Lane, with our current development partners Town.Marmalade Lane is a cohousing project that Town are delivering and we wanted to get an up close look at a project that's further on than our own.
The image above is taken from the bottom left corner in the plan illustration (below), and looks across the 1 acre site as it's being developed. This particular project has 42 dwellings, along with communal and shared spaces, including a kayak storage space - talk about building something bespoke to meet the needs of a community!
At present we're looking for sites with an approximate size of 0.4 - 0.9 acres, so almost up to the size of this site, to hold up to 35 dwellings.
It was fascinating to see a project closer to realisation, to discuss the process, the considerations, the building methods and the timeline. The project took a year to get through planning, and will take a year to build.
Marmalade Lane was a project initiated by a pioneering and progressive city council in Cambridge, and uses a variety of sustainable building methods, including Swedish near-passive-house Trivselhus. Have a scroll below to see some of our pics from the visit, with descriptions...
We watched a series of roof sections get craned into place, slotting neatly and simply together like jigsaw pieces.^
This is a view of the projects large, green, common garden area (in addition to dwellings having small individual gardens. We were surprised they were looking to have allotments off site, given they seemed to have a substantial space here, but of course we don't know the detail of this projects discussion and decision making.^
A happy Sussex Cohouser feeling official and one step closer to the realisation of our own project, for visiting another project.^
The roofing tiles were contemporary non-slate versions of their much heavier slate counterparts.^
This section of the project housed flats as well as the Common House. The veranda's visible will be suspended from above so there will be no struts on the ground level.^
Another excited member of Sussex Cohousing ready for the tour!^
This a view into the 'Great Hall' in the Common House, which at the far end has a double-height spaciousness. This is where the community will hold it's shared meals, community events and the like. The shared kitchen is round the corner to the left in the image.^
The shared kitchen. Or it will be! ^
This is taken from the double-height 'Great Hall' in the common house, with the shared kitchen on the right hand side of the ground floor. Above is a mezzanine that will have a collection of rooms for office space, meditation and meeting rooms.^
As we begin to look more earnestly into issues of diversity, what that means to us and what our preferences are, we decided to dedicate our November social to thinking about our community in terms of the actual make-up of households. Each attendant had 30 'household' squares to fill in with the different cereals that represented people of different ages, from babies and toddlers through to people over 60. We also used cat and dog biscuits to represent cats and dogs in households.
It was a fun an engaging exercise that helped us visualise the kind of community make-up we'd each ideally like, whilst also facing us with the limitations and imagined realities of how the ideas in our heads might look and even work.
Along with more traditional household constituents, some of the more unusual make-up of households included 3 generations of family living under one roof, older women living alone in households and having a younger lover hopping between stays in each of their houses, and (my personal favourite) a household of 20+ cats managed by 2 babies that was proposed by one of our youngest attendees (see image directly below)!
As the development team explore the issue of diversity further, in light of considering specific sites and financial models, the issues of who would live in the community become ever more pressing. This was a great exercise to get us all thinking about it, and having fun together. Below are just some of the attendees working models...