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Cohousing is a “sustainable and neighbourly way to live”

A small group of Sheffield residents have been seeking a new way to live communally for several years. Members of Five Rivers Cohousing told us more about their ambitious plans for a development site in north-west Sheffield.

SPIDER PARK ENTRANCE VIEW FINAL edit

Street view showing from left: block of flats, terraces and common house in the centre.

Many of us share homes with friends in the early part of our adult lives, particularly when we first leave home. Although private space is almost always a given in these scenarios – alongside communal areas like a shared living room and kitchen – in the UK we tend to strive towards living more privately with a partner, spouse or immediate family. In most cases adults only share housing during a transition in their life.

As a concept, cohousing challenges these cultural norms and its potential benefits go far beyond the social. UK Cohousing, a network founded to raise awareness and support development of the movement, calls cohousing schemes “intentional communities run by their residents.” Households are self contained but there is an emphasis on shared space and facilities, striking a balance between privacy and more open, social living.

For Five Rivers Cohousing, the journey to finding a suitable space to live together in Sheffield has been a long one, with some exciting recent developments.

Made up of a core of 13 members, the group had been seeking a site for a co-housing scheme for several years when, in early 2021, they went into partnership with Oakworth Homes, who already had planning permission for a different scheme on a 1.2-acre site known as Spider Park, located in Wisewood in the north west of Sheffield.

Plans drawn up with the local timber-frame construction company consist of 22 units – 1-bed and 2-bed apartments and 2-bed and 3-bed houses – as well as a ‘common house’ featuring space to socialise and guest bedrooms. Public right of way will be retained across the site and members will help maintain the public space at its southern end.

STREET SCENE REAR edit

View from the south, showing common house with bi-fold doors and balancing pond.

Asked why cohousing is important, longstanding Five Rivers member Rachel said it’s “a sustainable and neighbourly way to live.”

“There is an emphasis on sharing resources, so that our carbon impact, separately and together, is lowered. We intend to share transport, tools and open garden space as well as having a laundry.

“Sharing and doing things together, along with joint decision-making over the running of the cohousing community, makes for a shared purpose with positive social benefits for all.”

Felicity, who is working with other members to ensure some rental units are available at the Wisewood site, says all members will be involved in decision-making, “regardless of whether they buy outright, have a mortgage or rent.”

“While all households will have their own kitchens, people may choose to come together on a regular basis to cook and eat. There will be space for a variety of social events in the common house, including child-centred activities. Outside there will be a children’s play area and spaces for growing vegetables.”

The group is drafting sustainability and transport policies to support bike use, public transport and car sharing on the site. Another member, Jill, says they are “designing as many eco features as we can afford into our buildings.”

“The timber-framed homes will be well insulated and triple glazed. There will be no gas on site; heating will be through air-source heat pumps. We hope to have solar panels on the roofs. There will be electric charging points to aid the transition to electric vehicles.”

Two other Five Rivers members, Nigel and Teri, currently live near to the site, which they say “has long been earmarked for residential use.” Located near Loxley and Wadsley Common, it's well served with local amenities and only a 15-minute walk or a five-minute bus ride to Hillsborough.

The group hopes to break ground this summer and is continuing to raise the finance to purchase the land and cover the build costs. For this reason – and to widen involvement – Membership Secretary Celia says Five Rivers “welcome interest from any age and life stage, but particularly from families and younger people who are thinking about settling down for a while.”

To some it might seem radical, but to others it could be the way they’ve always wanted to live their lives, with community, sustainability and shared abundance at the centre. Looking at the concept plans for the Wisewood site, it’s hard not to be inspired by a group of Sheffield residents shaping their living environment around their own needs and wants. When it’s so often private commercial interests that define our urban environment, it’s easy to forget that – at its core – it’s all about people.

Learn more

Five Rivers Cohousing are hosting visits of the Wisewood site for anyone who is interested in getting involved to learn more about their plans. If you want to book for an information event, email the group or visit their website.

Five Rivers also would like to hear from you if you can help with financial support in the form of a loan.

by Sam Walby (he/him)

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