Glebe Meadow Westleton
Glebe Meadow Westleton

Cannock Mill Cohousing Scheme, Colchester, Essex

In March 2020 a group of us from the management group went to visit this new cohousing scheme in Colchester, to see what we could learn. Cannock Mill describes itself as a 'mutually supportive cohousing group, sharing values and aims, building our own low energy and environmentally friendly homes with a shared ‘common house’, land and facilities at Cannock Mill, Colchester.' 

23 units have been built to Passiv Haus standard, which, according to our host Sheena Robertson, means that the heating is rarely on. The only practical downside of this is  remembering to close the doors when you leave a room, but she says she is getting used to that and it's a small price to pay for no heating bills. Although this high insulation thermal advantage was widely anticipated, they felt they had to install heating as a back-up in case of need due to the fact that most of their residents were likely to be elderly, at home during the day and more susceptible to the cold. 

 

A core group of the current residents banded together to buy the site in 2015 and the final resident has only recently moved in, with many still at a variety of 'move in' stages. The site already had outline planning permission for 23 units when they bought it, so the principle of developing the site for residential accommodation had been accepted by the planners. However, they needed to modify the planning substantially for a variety of reasons, including to better deal with the 9 metre drop of the site (which led to the houses being designed 'upside down' ie living accommodation on top and bedrooms below to maximise light), the heavy clay soil which was water logged  & made drainage a major problem for the builders. 

When they found the site there were 20 people involved, but this dropped to 13 who agreed to commit to the site and to providing the seed funding. The majority of the units are 3 storey, 3 bedroom terrace houses, but there are also 2 bed/2 storey houses, and 6 1 and 2 bedroom flats. They have all been purchased on a long leasehold basis (999 years), and each has a share of the freehold, which includes the Mill. The largest homes were bought for over £600k, and the service charge is £3,000pa. When they sell a property, the seller must pay 1% of the price they paid to buy the unit into a sinking fund. 

 

The core group met monthly over lunch & by the time they moved on site they knew each other very well and had discussed a host of issues that might arise. They have tended to keep their 'living policies' relatively informal as a result, and so far there hasn't been a need to have a vote on any major issues, as a consensus has been formed. Each property gets one vote, regardless of how many people live in that property. For example, there is no formal policy on sub-letting as they appreciate that people's needs change and residents may need to be away for 6 months or so, and rather than have an empty unit it would make sense for someone else to live there during that time. But this is controlled through the lease provisions - the owner would need to obtain permission from the rest. There is an understanding that they will share 3 meals a week in the common house which is the converted Mill - externally pictured above and internally below.

 

The site isn't intergenerational as such, they are open to applicants of any age, but the average age currently is over 60. If someone wants to buy a home on the site they are invited to attend a monthly meetig over lunch, they are interviewed by the interview panel (presumably to ensure they understand the concept of social living and whats expected from them), and then finance cttee (presumably to ensure they can afford to buy in, and pay the service charge). The group have a list of potential purchasers and these people have a 'buddy' resident on site who keeps them informed. 

Car Share Scheme - on site they have 4 cars that were formerly residents they have pooled and can hire on an hourly basis. Payment is based on a monthly per driver fee plus the mileage they drive in these cars. When these cars need to be replaced they may switch to electric, but the scheme is still in its infancy. 

Financing - when they bought the site (using their own funds) they managed to obtain a Developer Loan from Homes England of £4.5m at an interest rate of 7%. However, they encouraged residents to put in up to 88% of the purchase price upfront so didn't draw the Homes England loan fully, which is just as well as the build was much delayed and the interest bill would've been beyond the budget. To incentivise this 88% cash contribution, they offered a small discount on the homes of up to 3%. 

Welcome

Glebe Meadow is a  Community Interest Company established to buy the former Vicarage  in the heart of Westleton and convert it into the social hub for a new development of 20 modern, age appropriate homes for locals aged at least 65.  

 

 

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© Sarah Quinlan