Vivarium Trust
Vivarium Trust

What is Co-housing?



Background to Co-Housing

Co-Housing is well established as a mainstream housing / lifestyle option in a number of countries.  Co-Housing was first created in Denmark in the 1970s, and around 8% of Danes aged over 50 now live in Co-Housing.  There are over 200 Co-Housing schemes up and running in the Netherlands.  Co-Housing can also be found in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc.

Co-Housing is starting to make an appearance in the UK with several groups working to set up developments in their local areas including OWCH, LILAC, Mandorla and Threshold.

Key features of Co-Housing

Co-Housing offers independent living within a loose community setting.  Members choose to live in Co-Housing because they are attracted by the opportunity to live in contact with their neighbours while at the same time retaining their independence and responsibility for their own lives. 

  • The whole project - from inception, design, detailed planning, building and development, through to ongoing operation - is managed by all members themselves in a fully participative manner.  Members work together to develop and manage their project.  Co-housing allows members to maintain control over their lives and lifestyle through full involvement in running the group.
  • Each of the 20-30 homes within the Co-Housing development is fully equipped for independent living with living area, kitchen, bedrooms, bathroom, etc.  
  • In addition, the development provides shared facilities for leisure, business and socializing, e.g. meeting and dining areas, kitchen, workshop, office, laundry, guest rooms, storage.  These can often take the form of common rooms or a ‘common house’ - a separate building or area easily accessible to all.  The site can also include lawns, gardens and other outdoor common areas.  
  • Although living independently, members expect to have ongoing contact with one another (e.g. social activity, informal social interaction, group business meetings).
  • In its overall form and layout, the site is designed to facilitate social contact among members and to encourage a sense of community.
  • The site of the Co-Housing development is not isolated:  it is located in or close to an existing town or village within easy reach of local amenities such as shops, doctor’s surgery, libraries, public transport, etc.  Regular interaction with the local community is encouraged:  members join local groups and clubs; while people from the wider community are welcomed to visit friends and to use the facilities within the Co-Housing site.

Co-Housing is not a Commune or a Co-operative.  Co-Housing has been described as ‘Living Apart Together’ in an ‘intentional community’ which combines the autonomy and privacy of the individual household with the mutual support offered through a degree of collaborative living.


Co-Housing for older people

Research indicates – and common sense suggests - that the housing options currently available to the over 50s do not always meet the needs of an increasingly active older population seeking to maintain independence for as long as possible.  The traditional choices (e.g. staying in the family home, moving in with grown up children, being placed into residential care) are neither attractive, sufficient nor appropriate.  More and more single people over 50, as well as couples, are looking for suitable affordable accommodation, together with a fulfilling lifestyle and opportunities for social connection.  Housing which matches these criteria and is particularly suited for older people is at present not readily available in Scotland.

Co-Housing is particularly relevant for the over 50s and the Co-Housing model offers:

  • security and mutual support among one’s peers
  • autonomy, dignity and self-worth
  • companionship instead of isolation
  • a sense of belonging and commitment
  • cheaper living through shared costs

Co-Housing enables older people – and also younger people looking ahead – to make lifestyle choices that will suit themselves into the future.  People can make their own choices now instead of waiting until their health and other abilities are declining and decisions on their behalf have to be made by others.

Most Co-Housing in Denmark, the home of Co-Housing, is for older people only and Co-Housing for older people is now incorporated as an option in the national housing policies of both Denmark and the Netherlands.  At least one other U.K. group, OWCH (Older Women’s Co-Housing, in London), has recognised the special relevance of Co-Housing for the over 50 age group.


Co-Housing in the UK

Co-Housing is beginning to make an appearance in the UK.  There are a handful of Co-Housing projects which are already in existence, plus a number of other groups which are at various stages along the development process. 

The U.K Co-Housing Network has been set up to allow the various local groups to keep in touch with one another via a website:

Most of the Co-Housing groups in the UK are privately funded, with members owning their own properties.  Vivarium, however, is attempting to follow the principle of ‘affordability’, where access to Co-Housing is not restricted to those who can afford the capital investment.

Company limited by guarantee, registered in Scotland No. 330445. Scottish Charity SC 038745

6 Church Lane, Ladybank, Fife, KY15 7LY

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