Youth is a fun and exciting time of share houses and socialisation, but as we age, we tend to get lonely. Susy Lee believes it doesn't have to be this way.
Susy is part of a group of five married couples who are planning to swap city life for a cohousing arrangement on the South Coast in retirement.
Entering a transitional phase which will see all ten members retire in the not too distant future, the group has launched business CoHoGo and bought a property in the Wollongong suburb of Berkeley, which they plan to develop for cohousing.
So what is cohousing? A popular misconception equates it to commune style living, but the reality involves much more privacy and self sufficiency.
Cohousing generally refers to a community of private homes built around shared spaces and infrastructure.
Each single home typically features traditional amenities, including private kitchens. Shared spaces may include communal kitchens, office buildings, pools, art studios or outdoor recreational spaces.
Accommodation may come in any form, with apartments, units or townhouses most common in urban areas.
Susy said their group had a slightly different arrangement to most cohousing developments. They have bought a large seven bedroom house on a huge property, which they will all move into in the coming years as they adapt the home into a more traditional cohousing development.
"We saw potential in this place to be able to use it as a share house now while we make the changes needed so we all have our own space," Susy explained.
"We will probably build a few extra units of cottages so people have their own space, but will have some shared space as well.
"We've all known each other for 30 years and some of us have worked together. We have shared values which have allowed us to make it happen faster."
Those shared goals and values include a desire to remain close to the coast, and a desire to live as sustainably as possible, among others.
While the collaboration currently consists only of married couples, that may not always be the case. There were originally some singles attached to the project, but they decided not to pursue the option. The group hopes that in time the development will become multigenerational, with others having the opportunity to buy in.
Susy said the group was hoping to challenge a cultural norm which resulted in many married couples suffering from empty nest syndrome when the kids move out. This problem can be exacerbated even more when one partner dies, exposing their spouse to even greater feelings of loneliness.
"We're trying to I guess be a bit counter cultural and think to ourselves 'why should we be lonely?'" she said.
"People just think you have to do things the way everybody else does and I think no, we don't.
"I guess what we are trying to do is combat loneliness - combat the idea your partner has to be everything, which puts an unnecessary strain on relationships."
Another strong advocate for cohousing is Lis Dunn - co-founder of Northern Beaches Cohousing, which is looking to establish a community housing development in the area.
Lis says she believes seniors have a strong role to play in the new community and the group would like to hear from those who are interested in joining.
She said cohousing was all about fostering a closer sense of community while also maintaining residents' private space and senses of self sufficiency.
"I started out studying design, and a lot of suburbs are built so people don't actually interact," she said.
"A lot of urban planning is designed for cars rather than people."
She said it was also easier to live sustainably in cohousing developments due to the ability to share infrastructure such as microgrids and recycling equipment.
Lis said while the northern beaches community would ideally consist of people of all ages, she believed seniors had strong roles to play in the potential development.
She said Cohousing was a perfect opportunity for seniors to downsize, while also maintaining more control over their new living environment - with residents playing a strong role in the design and development of their new communities. It also provides an opportunity for seniors to remain active in an intergenerational community. She said there was a potential opportunity for some seniors to play an active role in looking after the children of families of working members of the community, although doing so would be completely optional.
"You won't end up alone in a house when your kids are somewhere else, and what do they say? It takes a village to raise a child.
"People (in cohousing) tend to watch out (for each other) more. They don't have to, it's only if they wish. It just naturally occurs because of the design of the community."
Planning for the community is still in the early stages. Members currently meet once a month and are currently looking for more people to join. Lis said cohousing communities generally consisted of anywhere from around 10-30 households.
If and when the group secures enough people to establish the community, members will then move onto the next phases of the plan, such as finding the land and looking into the design of the community.
For more information about Northern Beaches Cohousing click HERE.
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