On Friday 29th March we held our first Public Consultation on the scheme, in St Peters Church, Westleton. This venue was chosen as it runs directly alongside our site, and therefore gave people an opportunity to see the size of the site and its location in relation to the rest of the village. The Vicarage building is well set back from the road running in front of it (Darsham Road) and there is a substantial hedge, ca 15-20 ft high on the boundary, and therefore many people - even those who live in the village - have no sense of the building nor the site. Several visitors were pleasantly surprised and delighted to see the photos of the Vicarage, and we received some comments on how unexpectedly large the site was, despite being in the heart of the village.
We were delighted that over 100 people came along to the Consultation and most of them (57%) completed our questionnaire which helps us find out what people really want.
Most people (86%) said they were familiar with the concept of cohousing / coliving, and 90% thought that such as scheme would be good for the area.
When asked what shared facilities might they like to see, guest bedrooms in the Vicarage /Social Hub and an on site manager were the most popular options. There was strong interest in an activity/games room as well as a large kitchen dining room for cooking and sharing meals. A shared laundry room was thought 'essential' or 'important' by most respondents, but the idea of a chicken run split opinion, with absolutely no-one thinking chickens might be an essential feature!
Car Share - we are keen to promote car pooling to reduce traffic and to protect the environment and were delighted that most respondents (70%) were prepared to consider giving up their cars at some time in the future providing a car share scheme and /or minibus for outings was available. Electric power points are obviously essential for cars and buggies, and most people thought that it was critical to have a car parking space adjacent to their property, even those who don't drive, perhaps for guests. However, more people (57%) would choose to have private outside space than a car parking space, but given the narrowness of the vote and the clear desire for a parking space near each property, we will try to design the site layout to offer both.
Modece, our architect for the site, had produced 2 options for both the site layout and the potential bungalow designs for people to have a look at and choose from. Many detailed questions were asked! We received some very useful comments and these will be incorporated into design refinements. On balance the more rounded site layout (rather than the T shape layout) received slightly more positive votes, but each bungalow design received pretty much the same votes which hopefully means Modece are along the right lines.
Co-living - People overwhelmingly thought that having people around to help them was the strongest benefit of a coliving scheme, which reinforces the desire to have an on site manager around to keep an eye out. Being surrounded by like minded people who have also signed up to the idea of social living was also considered important to most people, and accepting that this type of living means that inevitably people will have to be willing to make compromises where necessary was widely accepted. On the issue of technology and how adept people consider themselves to be with new technology, most people already use laptops and/or smart mobile phones and /or tablets, but few have smart homes at the moment. So clearly there will be a good opportunity for people to help residents with the smart technology that will be built into their new homes to make life easier and more comfortable for them.
Financing - several people had heard all sorts of strange things about how the scheme is to be financed! Simply put, the scheme will be mainly commercially financed (70-80%), with some grants and private finance (in the forms of loans to Glebe Meadow Community Interest Company) covering the remainder of the costs. The commercial and private finance will be fully repaid when the bungalows are sold.
In response to the question '"Glebe Meadow CIC want to share in the increase in value of your property when it is sold so that they can reinvest in the site to maintain and improve it whilst keeping the monthly service charge at a reasonable level, does this seem fair to you?" 66% of respondents said Yes. 24% said they weren't sure (eg some wanted to know how big the share might be) and 10% said No.
In response to the question ' The properties will be sold on long leaseholds plus a share of the site freehold, would this put you off?" 69% of respondents said it wouldn't put them off, 9% said it would and the remainder weren't sure. Because of the shared nature of some of the facilities and the requirement that residents are able to live independently, the properties will have to be sold on a leasehold basis. However all owners will also own a 1/20th share of the freehold of the whole of the site, which covers the shared areas and social hub. Ownership can be easily transferred, as, for example, leasehold flats are currently, but new residents will have to meet the age, local connection and independent living criteria.
Summary - we were pleased with the level of interest and support that we received over the 2 day consultation period, with some people saying we might be the answer to their prayers! Very appropriate given the setting. There's a lot of work to be done to get the scheme through planning and then to raise the finance for it and build it, but given the support we are confident that there is a need for this type of sociable, age appropriate accommodation, and we remain committed to providing it in the heart of our community!
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.