Yana Stoyanova opens the door to a unique co-housing scheme
The Older Womens’ Co-Housing (OWCH) in Barnet, north London, is a man-free environment. Set up by women for women, it was founded as a place where they could live and provide care and support for one another.
“Women are much more likely to live alone in old age than men – over the age of 75, 60 per cent of women live alone in the UK compared to around 34 per cent of men,” said Maria Brenton, who first presented the idea of senior co-housing in the UK in 1998.
In order to become a member of the OWCH scheme, women must be more than 50 years old.
Brenton said: “The age of 50 is when, in our experience, older people begin to think about their futures. We wanted a wide range of ages in our community.”
Run by the women who call it home, OWCH has 25 apartments, 17 of which are leased by their occupants and eight that are left for social renters.
Janet Wood, 72, is enthusiastic about the scheme: “I’m so happy, so overjoyed to be living here, my daughter can’t believe how happy I am.”
Living together creates a positive atmosphere among OWCH residents.
Each woman has a self-contained flat, but also shares a common room, guest suite, garden and a laundry.
The women are brought together by a desire to retain their independence as they age. Brenton believes this is achieved naturally: “Through working with each other to manage their shared building, through a strong ethic of mutual support and through the pleasurable activities that members organise from time to time.”
Funding was one of the main issues for the organisers as they wanted to set up housing for women who did not have the means to purchase a home.
Brenton, and the others who helped her establish OWCH, worked hard to do so over the past 18 years.
With the help of Pollard Thomas Edwards architects (PTEa) and the generosity of the Tudor Trust the development finally opened its doors in December 2016.
The Tudor Trust gave OWCH several grants between 2006 and 2014 with the last one being £1.2m to develop the apartments, and a smaller one that went towards the communal spaces.
Nicky Lappin, research and information manager at the Tudor Trust, said: “We were interested in helping the group develop a community in an urban setting which would represent a new kind of social model in terms of promoting cohesion, independence, interdependence and a shared sense of community.”
OWCH members are happy to have moved into the development and already think of it as their home. Everybody has a role and there is a feeling of unity within the group.
Charlotte Balasz, 64, said: “I wanted to feel part of a community, be among caring and like-minded people and remain active and engaged with the wider world.
“As an older woman I didn’t want to disappear into another isolated flat in an anonymous block.”