Never have you seen a more satisfied group of people than our cohousing residents yesterday after a day of working together to regroup after the summer and prepare for winter.
Last week we walked around our 8.5 acre site together and prepared a list of jobs. Some are urgent, some not so, and some will continue to bounce along in and out of the long grass. With this list in mind, yesterday people put their different skills into action…
Barley straw added in to treat non-potable water reservoir
Chicken shed moved
Angle grinding of an old axle to prepare for recycling
Hotbox composter emptied and refilled
Pallets in place ready to construct into new compost bins
Donkey manure ready to mulch
Digging of beds (couch grass means no-dig methods are no go so far)
Sheep sorted into different paddocks, ready for the ram later in the year
Hay moved to winter storage
Shared space means shared responsibility
The definition of cohousing is that there is an element of shared space. At Hockerton Housing Project each household owns its own house and garden, but with that comes the benefit of shared access to 8.5 acres land, income from the onsite business and the use of facilities including renewable energy systems and various ponds and lakes. Not forgetting the zip wire, treehouse and pizza oven! To manage all this, each house has a commitment, set out in the original planning permission and bound in a 999 year lease, to undertake a certain amount of hours work on the Project. Visitors on our tours are often taken aback by the idea of such a formal commitment but, as the work is flexible in terms of content and timing, it quickly becomes a way of life.
Some of the work is paid, where undertaken for our trading business, and the rest is compensated by a supply of fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat and access to the land. All of it is tracked so we all do our fair share. Those working full-time elsewhere may take on the weekend jobs of public tours or evening jobs of managing the website and tour administration. Others may have ideas that they can develop as part of the business: our current projects include R&D for a new form of renewable energy generation with a local university, building performance monitoring on behalf of a housing association, asset management of wind turbines for community energy groups and farmers, and our ongoing range of tours and workshops to develop sustainability knowledge and skills.
Such flexibility, and a decent pay rate, means it can work well for people of all ages, including those who want to cut back on full-time work. The activities suit a range of interests and personalities, and stages of life such as those in the early days of retirement or people who want to continue working whilst also caring for young children, and for those looking to develop new skills, or apply existing ones, in the field of sustainability.
Where there is a will…
The need to cooperate underpins this cohousing approach to managing shared land and a shared business. Plans need to reflect shared needs and values, whilst also taking into account individuals’ skills, time and interests. If people had neither the time nor the inclination to act, the business or use of the land would not develop as intended. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And there’s definitely a Hockerton will, and way, to develop… sustainably of course.
Every 3 – 4 months we read our 50 power and water meters to check how we are doing in terms of consumption, generation and export.
Each household pays for their share of consumption relative to use, with any income from the export of renewable energy shared equally between us.
The resultant figures help us remain aware of our use, not least because we see it relative to (or in competition with?!) our neighbours. It also reminds us how well these houses perform. This can become easy to forget when the house is your home – until heatwaves like this week, when we could feel the difference as the thermal mass soaked up any heat that made it through shaded windows.
* Our average daily energy use was around 23% of a standard house (per house, not incl the garages).
* We exported 38% of what we generated, compared with 48% in the winter
* We earn around 4p for a kWh exported but pay on average 7.5p per kWh we use, so over the last 4 months we’ve missed out on energy worth £145.
* In the last 4 months we’ve generated the equivalent of 95% of our total household use (not including our shares in our community-owned wind turbine of course).
* And we are using 260 litres of water a day per house on average. Potable: non-potable is 1:11. This is a similar ratio to that in the first quarter but an increase overall. Average usage per person is 82 litres, compared with Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5 and 6 target of 80 litres – perhaps due to higher number of washes during peak vegetable gardening season!
Earlier this year we heard Helena’s reflections on 20 years at Hockerton Housing Project. Now we hear from our newest neighbours, Deb and Pete, 2 years after moving from the local market town of Southwell…
“My husband and I moved in to Hockerton Housing Project just over two years ago. We are in our early to mid fifties and have a son of 27 years of age, who at the time was living in Japan but since then has come home to HHP which he loves!
We had lived in an ordinary house in Southwell for over 25 years and it was a big move for us albeit only a distance of 2 miles.
Why did we make the move? We knew we loved growing things, in fact we had an allotment in Southwell for a long time; we knew we wanted to have farm animals but didn’t want to be tied down by them or for that matter the growing; and we knew we wanted to live as sustainable a life as possible!
But we were worried about the unknowns of cohousing – the amount of work we would have to do in the community, privacy, and how we would fit in.
Two years on we wonder what on earth we were worried about.
It is great to have sheep, that I look after (by choice) on a day to day basis, but someone else is always around to look after them when I want to go away for the weekend or on holiday. It is the same with the people who look after the chickens, they just tell us when they are going away and someone volunteers to look after them until they are back.
As for the growing – it is a 1/5th of the work of looking after your own allotment and so much more satisfying than seeing food wasted when there is a glut of something. I have a well-used jam and chutney pan and a fully-stocked freezer to see us through the winter for fruit and veg. Our bees produce our own honey which tastes simply wonderful…in fact it’s a strong favourite with the extended family and hence I managed to get through 12 jars last year!
I have learnt from others to deal with the ewes lambing, there is always someone else about to help out when intervention is needed, and sharing the lambing experience is just awesome. We had 16 lambs this year, 8 boys and 8 girls so have a flock of 32 altogether. Amy, my next door neighbour who is ten is going to be a fab little shepherdess…next year I could almost leave the lambing to her!
No longer do I get in my car and go miles to purchase flowers for my little flower business instead I walk out into my garden or up to the cutting garden at the allotment to select seasonal sustainable flowers which smell gorgeous. That was something I never dreamed of doing until I moved here. I nip into our cooperative’s office a couple of times a week to check the inbox and promote and manage tours – it’s a twenty five yard walk from my back gate. I guide tours when we have them for schools and universities with other residents and also do catering for conferences when they are held in our purpose built sustainable venue.
In terms of privacy, my life is more private here than it ever was in the middle of Southwell. As residents there is a great respect for each others’ privacy but this all happens without being made explicit.
This is actually how I hoped life would be, it is idyllic. You do have to pinch yourself every day when you turn round that corner at the end of the road you come into another world. So many local people come and say I never knew that this was here and are blown away by its beauty and how warm our homes with no heating really are!”
If you want to find out more, do come and see for yourself on our next public tour on 19 September – booking essential!
We are often asked why we settled on a group of five homes when planning the development at Hockerton. There are practical reasons such as the size of the plot available, and planning requirements such as the need to incorporate street lighting in larger developments. But there is also a social reason. The following excerpt from OpenLearn LabSpace on team dynamics is a helpful summary…
How many people in a team?
Does the task need a lot of people doing the same task (for example, an advice centre) or a small, expert team addressing different parts of the task (for example, writing new information leaflets)? The size of the team needed will be an important consideration. The larger the team, the greater the potential variety of skills and knowledge, but as the size of the team increases each individual will have fewer opportunities to participate and influence proceedings. The size of a team is therefore a trade-off or balance between variety and individual input. A team of between five and seven people is considered best for the effective participation of all members, but to achieve the range of expertise and skills required, the group may need to be larger. This brings with it the challenges of how to manage and supervise a large team. In health and social care, multi-organisational teams may be large given the need to ensure representation from different organisations required to plan and deliver a particular service or address an individual service user’s case.
Homogeneous groups, whose members share similar values and beliefs, may be more satisfying to work in and may experience less conflict, but they tend to be less creative and produce greater pressures for conformity. In contrast, heterogeneous groups, whose members have a wider range of values and beliefs, are likely to experience greater conflict, but they have the potential for greater creativity and innovation.
Our shared values and beliefs certainly deliver less conflict, but we’ll leave it to you to decide whether it also means we are less creative!
This week Kevin McCloud returned to the Hedgehog Project in Brighton on Grand Designs and showed how that housing co-operative has moved on from being an innovative self-build to building roots in the community – reflecting our experience here at Hockerton Housing Project.
We are hoping that the planners at Newark and Sherwood will have been watching, as a plan for a new self-build partnership in Hockerton is now under consideration. The plan is to demolish a redundant industrial building and replace it with five two-storey homes (up to 3 bedrooms) and two one-storey, one bed homes.
Hockerton Housing Project is supportive of the plans for a number of reasons:
The energy efficient design will deliver 80% less carbon and 60% lower running cost than homes built to today’s minimum standards.
Each dwelling will have a share in Hockerton’s community-owned wind turbine to ‘offset’ the carbon content of remaining energy use.
Rainwater harvesting and water efficient appliances will limit demand for mains water, and a reedbed will be used to avoid nasty odours from sewage.
Affordable housing allows people with a wider range of skills and expertise to live in rural areas.
The co-operative nature of the development, both in its build and its maintenance, means pride will be taken in the quality of the work on buildings and landscaping.
The more people resident in the village, the better for local businesses such as the farm shop, the pub, restaurant and ice-cream parlour.
Self-build partnerships are rare, but offer many benefits, so let’s hope the planning officials see the merit of putting brownfield land to better use as a site for new affordable homes in Hockerton, further strengthening the village’s reputation as a hub of innovative and affordable energy efficient homes.
If you are interested in understanding how we developed our self-build at Hockerton Housing Project, and how the co-operative works in practice, make a new year’s resolution to come on one of our Sustainable Living Tours – the next one is 19 January 2013.