The project

The proposed site for the Hope Cohousing development is currently a grass-covered sloping field in St Margaret’s Hope which is earmarked by Orkney Islands Council for residential development. [Click for a map]. Its elevated position gives good views over the bay.

A collaborative approach to housing design

A central principle of cohousing is that groups take an active role in the design process of their cohousing community. For us, from the earliest days of the project, we discussed design ideas with architect Gokay Deveci. He was interested in combining the principles of innovative housing design, wellbeing and healthcare principles, and technology to support active ageing. 

The objectives of the project include:

  • to eliminate social isolation and promote social interaction
  • to address fuel poverty issues
  • to ensure safety
  • to encourage independence
  • to create a familiar design to assist emotional security
  • to protect privacy.

A new way to live as we age

Click to enlarge [drawings from Grigor Mitchell Architect]

The development, of five houses and a common house, is small but appropriate in size for our rural, island community.

Each house, of approximately 75 square metres, has an identical layout of two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen/dining area and sitting room. South-facing skylights provide sunshine, solar heat and ventilation. The houses have a vaulted roof over the day rooms, creating a much greater feeling of space and sense of airiness.

To ensure long-term suitability, accessibility has been a key consideration in the project’s design. The whole project is single-storey, with doors and windows appropriate for wheelchair users. Our intention is that both house design and site layout ensure residents will be able to continue living at HCH even in the event of physical disability or other debilitating conditions.

Click to enlarge the floorplan of the Common House (right) and one house in the terrace

Sustainable, low energy design for a low carbon future

We see it as a priority to build to the highest standards in terms of sustainable, low energy design. As far as is possible within our budget, all materials will be chosen with these standards in mind and with a focus both on construction and on residents’ living conditions.

The aspiration of our architect is that the houses be so well insulated that the annual heating bill for each unit would not exceed the Government’s Winter Fuel Allowance payment. 

The choice of a terrace of houses was largely determined by a combination of site conditions and energy efficiency. The sloping site demanded a long, thin row of houses to reduce the amount of excavation (and associated cost), and a single building containing all houses has significantly less external wall area – and thus less heat loss – than a series of individual houses.

We will have solar panels to heat water and are looking to be part of the innovative Orkney ReFLEX scheme.

The internal street – a shared and social space

From what started as a large, glass-covered area along the length of the terrace we have embraced the idea of an internal street. More compact, it will be an enclosed shared space which, in line with the cohousing ethos, will facilitate social interaction. 

It can be seen in the plans below as the timber-clad and glass front (north-west aspect) of the building. Crucially in the climate of the north of Scotland, the ‘street’ will allow easy access between houses and for residents to reach the Common House without venturing outside. Importantly, it also creates a buffer space, pre-warming fresh air entering each of the houses and reducing heat demand in the houses.

The Common House

Identical in size to the residential units, the Common House is situated at a widening of the internal street. Here there will be an area of seating and a public entrance to the cohousing project.

A Common House is an integral part of a cohousing project. It offers shared space and facilities for residents, comprising kitchen, lounge/dining area, laundry facilities, freezers, recycling pod. We hope to have a small self-contained flat which would be available for the use of guests or temporary carers and would also offer accommodation for prospective residents to sample life in a cohousing community.

Technology to support independent living

Our partners at Robert Gordon University have been working to explore the potential use of digital technology in a senior cohousing setting. This includes the fitting of sensors that can (without being invasive) detect movement (or lack of) and monitor occupant wellbeing.

The aim of this technology-based approach is to:

  • enable residents to remain in their own homes for longer
  • predict health-related events, reduce hospital admissions, and enable an early discharge
  • provide an alternative option for people who do not wish to reside in a care home.

External space

Behind the terrace of houses, each has a small private garden space.

Around the site’s boundary, there will be a hedge including native trees and shrubs chosen for year-round colour and interest. The shared garden areas will include raised beds for vegetable growing, a polytunnel for cultivation or relaxing out of the wind and space for our hens. 

In line with our low energy strategy, we will have a shared electric car and an electric car charging point.

Parking will include space for disabled vehicles.

Life in our small community and links to the wider community

For Hope Cohousing members, the planning and pre-construction phase of the last two years has included considerable debate and discussion about the practical arrangements for life in our new homes.

The key points in our guidelines for living together are:

  • residents will be responsible for running their cohousing project
  • every resident will be a member of the management group
  • decisions will be arrived at by consensus unless it is agreed a majority opinion is more appropriate
  • all residents must be over 60 and able to live independently
  • all residents will have a tenancy/occupancy agreement. 

We have lots of ideas for life at Hope Cohousing! 

  • Workshop sessions for ourselves, and the wider community – arts and crafts, exercise, music
  • Shared meals and festivities in the Common House and garden – for ourselves and invited friends and relations
  • Gardening – establishing our communal and private garden areas, planting up raised beds

Policy documents

We are mindful that foresight and planning at this stage may avoid difficulties in the future. We recognise the importance of setting out what is expected of us all as residents. In addition, we appreciate that anyone interested in becoming a resident in the future should know what to expect. Our draft policies on equality and diversity, visitors, smoking, pets, allocations and resolving conflict are here.

Watch our new video. Made for the Rural Housing Summit 2021, it tells our story in 3 minutes.