This week I would like to put a new idea to you: Co-housing. Here in South Africa the concept of retirement villages began I think, around the 1980s and has now become a major industry. These are whole villages where senior citizens live in their own houses or flats and share communal areas like swimming pools and gardens. In some of them a frail care ward is part of the offering. This concept is only available to a minority who can afford it.
Co-housing is subtly different. It involves a group of people getting together and deciding to live together in one building. A communal living concept, that integrates private residence and communal areas into one building. Variables would be the choice of owning or renting the building. The example many of us will be familiar with was the living arrangements in the well-known sitcom, “The Golden Girls”.
Co-housing brings people together who choose to live co-operatively. They would live in individual areas, but share spaces, such as kitchen, exercise facilities and entertainment areas as well as patios and gardens. Those who come together in this way would ideally share common values, such as the importance of community, a desire to promote environmental sustainability or a shared spirituality.
As loneliness is a major factor for many of us ageing without children or for those whose children live far away, I think this is a wonderful concept. Here in Cape Town, I have heard of one offering with an interesting slant. The house is owned by a younger couple with small children and they rent space to seniors from a wide spectrum to create a family living concept. Meals are cooked by the young mother and communal activities encouraged.
Many Boomers are opting for what is becoming known as ‘Ageing in Place’, that is, not uprooting and moving to an old age home when one becomes frail, but rather staying in your own home. The option of co-housing could be a solution, because as the population in the house ages they could employ a housekeeper or carers to look after them. The possibility of asking an occupational therapist and physio to set up communal programmes is also an option. Dementia may prove a challenge, but for those who are mentally sound, but have difficulty with mobility, they might prefer to grow old with friends rather than in an institution.
I can hear some of you saying that communal living is not how you want to see the end of your days. For myself, I still love my own space and independence and feel I am not ready right now at 65. But….. maybe later? Please share your thoughts.