Q. I am looking for a co-housing project where I can live. I really like the idea of co-housing and sharing resources.
A. It’s great that you interested in On the Brink Co-housing Community, (OTB). If you want to register your interest in On the Brink, then you should contact us at email@example.com. There does have to be a process through which current members of OTB select people to live with so your OTB contact will give you more details about what will happen and when. If you do join On the Brink then you will be able to join in all the decision-making discussions and meetings as a full member of OTB from that time.
Q. I am interested to find out more about the way this project is being financed and what level of commitment will be required and at what stage.
A. As you can imagine, financing the project will be in several stages. As a member of OTB you will have full access to details of all the accounts and be able to help in decision-making about the way that money is spent at every stage. Some members have contributed money from their savings at the very start of the project to help the purchase of Brincliffe House and its grounds, and for its development. Other people may well have all their money tied up in the house they currently own and live in, and won’t be able to free up this money until they sell their house. Other people may be interested to rent one of the completed units at a fair rent. Others may not have any capital or savings and will decide to borrow money to purchase a flat.
Part of the process of becoming a member involves speaking with the treasurer and/or the Project Manager about personal finances
On the Brink Cohousing Community Ltd has borrowed money for the initial purchase of the house and its grounds and all the ongoing work it is currently engaged in: conversion from offices into flats; creating communal areas and building new living spaces in the grounds; professional costs; work to make the garden more manageable and so on. Borrowing this amount of money on the commercial market is a major development cost of the project. We looked into the best way to raise the amount of money that is needed during the conversion/ building work and, after approaching several banks and other institutions that lend money to projects like ours, secured a development loan from The Charity Bank. Legal agreements have been drawn up by our solicitors, Wrigleys, so any money that is given or lent to OTB is as safe as possible and can be returned should the need arise.
Q. What units will be available to live in?
A. Jarvale, our chosen contractors, are busy converting Brincliffe House into 11 flats with additional communal spaces and a new Coach House. Some of the flats are quite modest in size and others are large enough for people with children or people with special needs or requirements. There may be scope for some new build, however the siting of this is not decided at this stage. Communal spaces are important features of co-housing communities and we envisage using ours flexibly for eating together when we can arrange it; for socialising, celebrations and fun activities; as a space for meetings and events and we intend to provide a dedicated laundry in the basement. There will also be a communal terrace on the roof. The converted house will be served by a lift throughout. The flats in the house and any new build units will be priced according to the number of square metres they include. Members will also benefit from being able to use the extensive grounds in collaborative ways.
Q. I am really interested in the ecological/ energy saving aspects of this project…
A. So are we. At every stage the energy efficiency of the project will be at the forefront of the planning and development process. As we understand it major energy efficiency gains can be made by insulating the properties to a very high standard and this can be done with internal fixings in the house itself. The new build properties will also be as eco-sensitive as finances allow. A similar principle applies to sound proofing between the flats. We are working with our architects, Tatlow Stancer, to ensure Brincliffe House and any new build properties will be as eco-sensitive as finances allow. In general, co-housing is considered an efficient and ecological way of living. The group will share cars and other resources.
Q. What about opportunities for gardening and growing our own fruit and vegetables?
A. Many of us are looking forward to being able to grow our own produce, including fruit, vegetables and flowers. When you get a chance to look around the site you will see that there are plenty of opportunities to create some wonderful growing areas in the gardens – but there will always remain some considerable challenges as well. The gardens are currently dominated by large trees. Many of these are quite rightly protected by Tree Preservation Orders, but there are also other areas where there is just scrub that can be cleared. Some of the trees, even with TPO status can be thinned so that more light can come through to the growing areas and into the house itself.
Sharing the area with an active family of badgers can also present its own challenges for gardeners. Perhaps creating raised beds and other defensive arrangements will allow us to co-exist with the badgers.
Q. I am interested in the progress of On the Brink Cohousing Community. Will I be able to lend money/invest to help the community come into being and ensure its sustainability in the longterm?
A. Yes. You are very welcome to participate in our Peer to Peer lending scheme. There are legal arrangements in place to ensure that your money is as safe as possible. The interest rate currently offered is 0-3%, with investors selecting their rate of interest.
Q. What are the drawbacks and problems that you envisage?
A. This is quite a complex project with many people involved as OTB members and as professionals helping with the development process. There may well be unforeseen factors that arise. But the OTB members are keen to take every step as diligently as possible to minimise risk. To this end we have secured professional help and advice as and when it is required. The house does seem to be in good structural order and has been well maintained by the previous tenants. The gardens are home to a large family of badgers and these are protected by law, so there may be some restrictions on the positioning and timing of new building works in the garden. There are also 22 trees in the garden that are currently protected by Tree Preservation Orders. Once again the way that the new buildings are constructed will have to take this into account with imagination and sensitivity (Brincliffe House is in the heart of the Nether Edge Conservation Area). This means that there will necessarily be some restrictions and negotiations will have to be had with local planners and the Sheffield City Council officers responsible for the maintenance of the Conservation Area. Local residents will also be vigilant to protect their vision of the area, and we are working to make sure that our neighbours are informed of our proposals each step of the way.
Q. How will decisions be made within OTB and what happens when disagreements happen?
A. There are models that have been adopted by other co-housing groups that seem to work. OTB plans to base our way of going about decision-making on the best practice taken from these. After two very informative decision-making training days we recently flew solo for our own consensus decision-making day. The outcome of this day is that we have developed our initial policies on consensus decision-making to take us forward for the first year of living together in Brincliffe House.
Q. Will I be able to sell my unit if I want to move on?
A. Yes, of course this will be possible. Once again we will be basing our policy on the experience gained from other co-housing groups and from the general guidance offered by UK Cohousing Network.
Q. How can I find out more?
A. Please come and have a chat with one of the current members of OTB. We can tell you how the project is going and show you the stages that we have already gone through. You will be able to find out more details of the finances of the project – and what still needs to done to make the project a success. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org