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Shared vision for new homes in Bridport

A plot of land on the outskirts of Bridport may not look like much at the moment, but in a few years’ time it will be home to a thriving community with a difference.

The site, to the west of Bridport Hospital in North Allington, is set to become west Dorset’s first ‘cohousing’ development.

Cohousing is described as a collaborative way of living that is greener, less costly and more neighbourly with a close-knit community at its heart.

Typically, there are shared facilities – such as dining and activity spaces, kitchens, laundry facilities and children’s play rooms – surrounded by individual homes, which in this development are at affordable prices for local people.

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Bridport Cohousing’s development, called Hazelmead, recently gained approval for its latest planning application, and now has permissions in place to build 53 properties on its site, which will make it the largest all affordable cohousing Community Land Trust scheme in the UK.

Its membership has work tirelessly for a decade to put the foundations in place, including raising £250,000 to secure the land.

Providing new hope for people who have been priced out of the local housing market, properties are now being offered for sale off plan.

Half will be sold on long leaseholds at below market value and half will be available for affordable rent through Bridport Cohousing’s chosen partner, Bournemouth Churches Housing Association (BCHA).

Anyone seeking to buy or rent must become a member of the Bridport Cohousing group in the first instance.

Monica King, who is company secretary, said: “Essentially cohousing is a DIY process and is a way of living which is shaped and organised by the people who will live there.

It is people developing homes for themselves and for others who want to live there so it is important that people become members.

Many local people are already interested, including many who have been working towards the success of the project for some time.”

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Properties will include two, three and four bedroom houses as well as one-bed flats. All are self-contained, private homes with their own small gardens. And the shared facilities provide the space where people can meet to have supper if they wish, catch up for an impromptu coffee or join in a fitness class.

There are two specific aspects to social interaction in cohousing.  There is the organised working together needed to manage the neighbourhood and there is the casual interaction that is encouraged by the design of the neighbourhood – kitchens overlook the paths that criss-cross the neighbourhood, so when washing up at the kitchen sink residents can wave at others passing their home.

Monica added “Cohousing is for people who actively enjoy a lot of company as well as those who just want a bit of company now and again.”

“The environmental aspect is also very important.  One of the attractions of the scheme for many of members is that it will help them to lower their environmental footprints, by sharing facilities and resources; able to have smaller homes because people know that they have other spaces that they can use.

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“For example, the common house for family parties and the guest bedrooms available for visitors mean that there’s no need for a spare bedroom, which seldom gets used.

“Our scheme will keep cars to the periphery so children will be safe to run about and play at the heart of the development.”

Hazelmead will include outdoor growing spaces so people can cultivate their own food and a car sharing club.

The Bridport Cohousing group, whose chair is Judith Griffies, can prioritise local people and when nominating members for resident status will select on the basis of four tiers: first Bridport and the surrounding area, then West Dorset, Dorset and beyond.

In many way it is similar to the community land trusts (CLTs) which have become so popular in West Dorset in recent years.

The schemes, which are being promoted through West Dorset District Council’s Opening Doors housing programme, give local people the power to lead their own developments in the way they want for local people to live in.

West Dorset is among the most active nationwide with more than a dozen active CLTs; and there is about £2m of funding available to help develop more schemes across the north, south and west of the county.

West Dorset District Council contributed resources and funding towards the Bridport Cohousing scheme.

Support from the Government’s Community Housing Fund was also absolutely vital to help get the scheme off the ground.

The group’s professional advisors include Charles Couzens of Ecos Maclean Ltd, a sustainable engineering consultancy based in London and Somerset; and Alan Heeks, who founded and co-led the creation of the Threshold Cohousing Centre in North Dorset, the first mixed-tenure cohousing scheme in the UK, in partnership with Synergy Housing.

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Its architects are Sam Goss and colleagues at Barefoot Architects.

Now work is due to begin over the winter, and by the end of 2019 that the patch of land near Bridport Hospital will be home to a bustling community connected in a spirit of neighbourliness and support.

Monica added: “It has taken 10 years so far and has certainly tested our stamina.”

“We’re very thankful for all of the support so far and we’re looking forward to the next phase and eventually seeing the first people move in.”

For information about how to register interest in a home and how to become a member of Bridport Cohousing Community Land Trust visit the website here or phone 07907 993587.