One of the partners in our community-led housing team is currently developing her own cohousing project in Cumbria.

She is writing regular updates about the project for us, and this is the latest instalment.

For previous articles in the series, please see the following:

Part 1: establishing a cohousing community

Part 2: setting up a cohousing community: the early days

Part 3: communications, conflicts and developing an effective governance framework

Part 4: planning slowdown allows time for reflection

Part 5: we got planning permission!

Conventional wisdom dictates that there are five stages to a community-led housing project: group, site, plan, build and live.  We have decided to mix things up by moving to site now, while still in the middle of the 'plan' stage and before we've started the build itself.  After all, no-one said it has to be a linear journey.

We took the decision to move to the site a few weeks ago, to join a couple of other families who have been living there for the last year.  Although we are still waiting for planning details to be finalised, it feels so positive to actually be there, building our community and looking after our land.  

By being on site, we're able to get a better sense of what buildings will work in the space, observing where the sun rises and sets, which parts of the site have the most light and shade and which areas have the most shelter.  All of this is important when building eco-homes, according to Passivhaus principles, which rely on solar heating and airtightness to provide energy efficient homes with the minimum of space heating requirements.  

It also means that it's easier to work out how our community will function as a group, a process which is developing organically rather than according to a strictly defined plan.  Being on-site means it's easier to hold face-to-face meetings, rather than the death-by-Zoom we've been exposed to over the last 18 months, especially as (like most cohousing communities), we try and eat together regularly.  We can also begin the process of settling into the wider community: something which has been important to us, being embedded in the local area rather than existing as an isolated eco-bubble.  

Each family is living in one of the buildings which already existed on the site.  Although we (rather grandly) call these 'chalets', each one actually started life as a couple of static caravans, bolted together and remodelled.  Admittedly, moving to a poorly insulated cabin without running water at the beginning of winter might be slightly ambitious, but the joy of living on site is so far making up for any deprivation we might feel.  That, and the super-fast broadband we enjoy.

Over the next few months, we'll continue to persevere with the planning process and hopefully will be able to begin the exciting build phase before too long.

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