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Loneliness is as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day [1] and is increasingly experienced by people of all ages. In the UK, a particularly vulnerable group are the 3.64 million living alone, aged 65 and over [2]. It’s no secret that loneliness negatively impacts our physical and mental health – 1 in 4 older people living alone have a mental health condition, and those living alone aged 65 and older are 50% more likely to go to A&E than those living with others [3].

Loneliness in later life (Source: Masoninc Charitable Foundation)

With the number of people aged 65 and over projected to increase by over 40% within 20 years [4], it is important to consider ways to overcome loneliness and its negative impacts for this age group, particularly within the issue of living alone.

Within this Housing Alternatives module, I am exploring neighbourhood design through the alternative paradigm of cohousing. Cohousing is a community created by people who share similar values or visions for living [2]. Residents live in self-contained, private homes, sharing community spaces and often take part in activities and shared meals [5]. I realised cohousing has the potential to be an effective way of resolving loneliness and its negative impacts, especially in the elderly population, as the concept is so heavily built around the idea of community and looking out for one another.

The cohousing model (Source: UK Cohousing Network)

I discovered New Ground – a senior cohousing scheme in London, home to 26 women aged 50 and over [6]. It was set up by the Older Women’s Cohousing group, all of whom have previously lived alone and share the willingness to remain as self-dependent and active as possible [7]. All woman live in single level flats, and share a common house with a kitchen, and communal gardens [6]. The group identified the importance of communal spaces – both internally and externally – as part of their everyday social life.

Residents’ flats, balconies and gardens (Source: NaCSBA)

Many of the residents of New Ground note the positive impacts of living in a group on their health and wellbeing [8]:

 “I think it’ll keep us younger, longer. We’re going to last longer…”

 “In these days of isolation and loneliness, it’s a wonderful thing to belong to a group like this.”

A resident also identifies the opportunity to “reduce demand [on healthcare] by housing older people in communal, supportive situations” [8].

The 26 women all look out for one another (Source: NaCSBA)

This case study highlights the success of cohousing on elderly health and wellbeing, and suggests the possibilities that cohousing could have on prevent the negative impacts of loneliness and isolation on the elderly population. It sets the foundations for encouraging the elderly to engage in a community and look out for one another.


References:

[1] Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B. & Layton, J.B (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review, PLoS Med 7(7)

[2] Community Led Homes (2018) What is Cohousing?, Available at: https://www.communityledhomes.org.uk/what-cohousing. [Accessed on 03/03/20].

[3] The Health Foundation (2018) Older people living alone are 50% more likely to visit A&E than those who live with others, Available at: https://www.health.org.uk/news-and-comment/news/older-people-living-alone-are-50-more-likely-to-visit-ae-than-those-who-live-with. [Accessed on 03/03/20].

[4] Centre for Ageing Better (n.d.) The State of Ageing in 2019: Adding life to our years.

[5] UK Cohousing Network (2020) About Cohousing, Available at: https://cohousing.org.uk/about/about-cohousing/. [Accessed on 02/03/20].

[6] NaCSBA (2020) New Ground, High Barnet, Available at: https://righttobuildtoolkit.org.uk/case-studies/new-ground/#. [Accessed on 02/03/20].

[7] OWCH (n.d.) About Us, Available at: https://www.owch.org.uk/about-cohousing. [Accessed on 02/03/20].

[8] OWCH (n.d.) Welcome to Older Women’s Cohousing, Available at: https://www.owch.org.uk/. [Accessed on 02/03/20].

One response to “Cohousing: Overcoming Loneliness Together”

  1. Thank you for this insightful piece.

    I agree with your statements evidencing the severity of the issue of loneliness, which is particularly prevalent within the ageing community. The facts that “5 million elderly people say TV is their main companion”, “20% of elderly [people] are in contact with family, neighbours less than once a week” and “1 in 3 live alone” really puts this issue into context, especially as the World’s population is ageing (Towergate Insurance, undated) (ONS, 2018).

    I agree that cohousing is a great way to address the issue of loneliness, especially as its design, being “based around sharing”, creates the ability “to encourage social interactions” (Jain, 2017) (UK Cohousing, 2020, 1). However, there are other aspects to cohousing which would also help create a desirable place to for the elderly to live, while addressing this issue. People can support each other via “co-care and co-support” schemes, while it also provides an opportunity to create housing that is accessible and appropriate, steering away from “conventional senior housing” (Riseborough, 2013, p.28) (Towergate Insurance, undated).

    However, within a cohousing scheme consisting entirely of the elderly, ownership issues can often arise, as people leave the community more frequently and houses become available (Towergate Insurance, undated). Problems can also come from people not being able to fulfil all the roles within the scheme due to age related physical limitations. In order to address the issue of loneliness and for cohousing schemes to work most effectively, wouldn’t intergenerational cohousing developments be more effective?

    References

    Jain, D. (2017). Planning a Cohousing Scheme. Available at: https://2016-2017.nclurbandesign.org/2017/03/planning-cohousing-scheme/ . Accessed on: 08/02/20.

    Riseborough, M. (2013). Exploring the Possibility of change. Co-hous¬ing – The potential for an older people’s development in Newcastle-Up¬on-Tyne. Available at: https://www.housinglin.org.uk/_assets/Resourc-es/Housing/Regions/NorthEast/Newcastle_Cohousing.pdf . Accessed on: 08/09/20.

    Office of National Statistics [ONS]. (2018). Living longer: how our population is changing and why it matters. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/ageing/articles/livinglongerhowourpopulationischangingandwhyitmatters/2018-08-13. Accessed on: 20/04/20.

    Towergate Insurance. (undated). Community 2.0: Is Cohousing the Fu¬ture of Urban Design? Available at: https://www.towergateinsurance.co.uk/commercial-property-insurance/is-cohousing-the-future . Ac¬cessed on: 08/02/20.

    UK Cohousing. (2020, 1). About Cohousing. Available at: https://cohousing.org.uk/about/about-cohousing/ . Accessed on: 08/02/20.

    UK Cohousing. (2020, 2). About Cohousing in the UK. Available at: https://cohousing.org.uk/about/cohousing-in-the-uk/ . Accessed on: 08/02/20.

    UK Cohousing. (2020, 3). Home Page. Available at: https://cohousing.org.uk/ . Accessed on: 08/02/20.

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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