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Collective living gains ground

The Guardian (24.10.09 Love thy neighbourhood and Grand designs on living in perfect harmony) reports on the growing trend for communal living with a modern twist, where individuals, couples and families live a low carbon, simpler existence with like minded people and neighbourly help always on hand but with their own space. Welcome to the world of co-housing and community living projects which originally brought up the vague memory of hippy collectives and religious cults living in (un) blissful (dis) harmony.

The new idea puts like minded people into like minded communities but allows them to retain personal space – in a safe, independent, caring and green environment. The most recent example of the trend can be seen in a new project in Lancaster where an old industrial site is being converted into 30 eco-homes complete with a communal area – a community built on “ecological values … at the cutting edge of sustainable design and living”. The Guardian reports that there are about 60 groups in the UK looking to set up co-housing schemes and one example they all look at is the UK’s first major co-housing project, Springhill, in Stroud, Gloucester. Springhill has been operating for six years with 34 homes on a car-free site at the edge of  the town. Shared meals are served three times a day in a three story common house where other community activities take place, the majority of houses have solar panels and the residents can use a car-share scheme. Residents have to cook for the rest of the community once a month and are expected to donate 20 hours a year to upkeep communal areas. One of the other early communal living models highlighted is Old Hall in East Bergholt, Essex, where 50 adults and 15 under 18s share a 70 acre organic farm and live a mostly self sufficient lifestyle, producing almost all of their own food and using a biomass generator and a ground source heat pump for power and heating. Again, meals are shared and members have to donate 15 hours each week to run the farm, cook, clean and maintain buildings. In summer volunteers arrive to work and in return live for free in what sounds like an idyllic sustainable low carbon lifestyle.

Its funny isn’t it – we look at ants, bees and wasps – and call the occupants ‘workers’ who are under a ‘queen’ and in a beehive the males are called ‘drones’ and we look down at the lack of individuality as something that is weak and to be despised. And yet these social insects are undoubtedly successful – all effort are to support the nest or the hive – and that is incredibly important. Surely humans do realize the positive nature of shared living (accepting that we are all to individualistic to ever take it too far) – well certainly science fiction writers do – Doctor Who’s nemesis is the Daleks – a rather scary form of social creatures united with a common purpose – albeit, errrm one which is to ‘exterminate’ and take over the Universe. In Star Trek it is the Borg who have most effectively challenged successive Star Trek captains – and their hive like structure and a shared communal approach (or looking at it another way a suppression of individuality) means that the group effort is focused on group success – a very efficient and very powerful tool. Remember, it works, and  resistance is futile ……

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