Do you have a passion to make the world a better place?

Lora Brill explains how living as part of a cohousing community has enhanced her life

Cohousing is people sharing goals for sustainable living & community cohesion

Lora Brill, Associate, Upstream Sustainability Services

Do you ever wish it wasn’t you, alone, trying to chart a different path through the climate emergency?  Cohousing is a type of community where you can pool your time, skills and passion with neighbours to create a more sustainable future at a lower cost of time and effort.

I was honoured to speak at the Urban Design Conference in Birmingham about delivering a people friendly environment at Marmalade Lane, the award-winning new cohousing development in Cambridge by TOWN, Trivselhus and Mole Architects.  As a resident of Marmalade Lane and member of Cambridge cohousing its been a tremendous experience moving into the community we spent years planning.

Sometimes, I think people miss the real point of cohousing – cohousing is not just about having neighbours you can borrow a cup of sugar from, eat a meal or share childcare with.  It is about living with a group of people who deeply trust and support each other to pursue passions and shared values in their own lives and in the wider community.  The community-led visioning, shared spaces and gardens, and consensus-based governance framework are critical to creating that trust and enthusiastic support for a better world.

Let me share 3 examples from my first 9 months of living at Marmalade Lane

Creating a haven for birds and other wildlife

Two mature oak trees were preserved in the middle of the site throughout construction and the thicket tangled around them became a haven for wildlife.  Rather than clear out the brambles and create a grassy lawn as initially planned, our Garden Working Group proposed to preserve the thicket, with judicious pruning, as a biodiverse wild heart.  Through consensus, our Management Council agreed to trial it and the brambles and brush remain as home for birds, insects and a brilliant place for children to play.  One passionate conserver of birds began going out in the early mornings to feed the birds sustainable, high quality food.  And when the cost of that was more than he could afford alone, we allocated £330 of service charge to bird food and crowd-funded to top up the budget.

7 neighbours install 40 solar panels

Completing contracts and moving in consumed most residents of Marmalade Lane in December and January of 2018/19.  No one had the time or energy to think seriously about installing solar panels, despite general support for them.  But one member was so keen to get solar up and going, that he researched suppliers and installation design, got quotes with a guaranteed install before the end of the feed-in-tariff in April 2019 and procured a group discount.  As a result, 7 households installed a total of 40 solar panels.

Electric car club reduces emissions and onsite cars

Marmalade Lane is the happy owner of 3 electric vehicle charging points.  But until recently, no electric car.  That changed in July 2019 when a member used the “K-1 Jam” Slack channel to announce her friend was selling a Nissan Leaf and was anyone interested in clubbing together to buy it?  The passion and commitment of just a few households to check the car out, research insurance, running costs, battery life, potential ownership structure, and discuss potential usage resulted in 10 households clubbing together to purchase the Leaf. Three households sold their individual cars as a result and many households transferred their unavoidable car travel to the low carbon, zero emissions electric vehicle. 

The positive change everyday people can make in the world

Marmalade Lane is a living example of the positive change everyday people can make in the world. The value of cohousing is living in a community of people committed to meet shared goals of sustainable living  and community cohesion and the social value this generates for the wider world.

How is your organisation planning to tackle the challenges ahead?  We want to hear all about it.

- Lora Brill

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