Communal living in the past has conjured up images of wild excess where everything is shared. During the 1960’s they became quite popular and then seemed to fade out, but they are making a comeback but not in the way that you remember. Burgeoning communal housing projects are taking hold throughout the country and there are now networks operating which advise people that are interested in how to go about setting on up.
One such communal housing project which has been hailed as a success is Threshold in Gillingham in Dorset. It used to be a farm and before that a Saxon settlement but has been turned into one of these schemes where like-minded people have chosen to create their own community. They tend to share the same principles of caring and sharing but they also enjoy their privacy and autonomy.
The main concept of all communal housing schemes is an antidote to the isolation and alienation that many people feel in modern day society, some people do not even though their neighbours let alone their community. Some people like to live that way but for those of you who do not then communal housing could appeal. You will still be able to shut your front door and have a private life but share a sense of community with others also.
There is usually a communal building which everyone can use which holds classes and activities. The environment is also an important concern so organic gardens and shared laundry facilities are high on the agenda. Some of the meals are eaten communally.
Many thought that this was a middle class ideal but in fact they do accommodate low-income families too. At the Threshold Centre half off the 14 inhabitants who live there have come through a housing association. In the future they hope that more and more housing associations will come on board. Some community housing projects are working towards accommodating the elderly with health facilities on site.
Those involved known that they have to overcome the suspicion that comes with communal housing projects. They are not all lentil eating tree huggers. The governments Localism Bill could allow more of these projects get off the ground because they would need 80% approval from the local community to build on land not designated for housing. It could also speed up the process as the planning process for them can be quite lengthy especially as opposition can be a barrier. One such project, Laughton Lodge, was up against a petition of 200 local people but they won the locals over. They were not going to be dope smoking hippies and that was the message that they had to get across. Once they had the support of the locals then they were granted planning permission and the project was able to go ahead. Locals even attend different classes and events there and it shows that these projects do work.
Communal living is not for everyone but they are becoming more popular and seem to answer what David Cameron means by the Big Society.