Marmalade Lane - Cambridge's first cohousing project - is a triumph
A resident on Cambridge’s first cohousing development says the first community of its type in the city is founded on respect.
Jan Chadwick, a resident of Marmalade Lane, insists the development is all about community engagement and is a throwback to the days when the neighbourhood cared about each other’s welfare.
The K1 Cohousing development is the culmination of eight years of work by the group, and comes at a moment when custom-build and community-led housing are being recognised by the government as viable and attractive models for future housing.
The development comprises of 42 homes, a mix of two-to-five bedroom terraced houses and one and two bedroom apartments.
In common with the other cohousing communities in the UK, Marmalade Lane’s shared spaces and communal facilities are designed to foster community spirit and sustainable living and remain integral to the development.
These include extensive shared gardens as the focal space of the community, with areas
for growing food, play, socialising and quiet contemplation, and a flexible ‘common house’
Which boasts a play room, guest bedrooms, laundry facilities, meeting rooms, and a large hall and kitchen for shared meals and parties. A separate workshop is located elsewhere on site.
All residents are members of Cambridge Cohousing Ltd, have a stake in the common parts and contribute to the management of the community. Fulfilling the group’s aspiration for mixed, intergenerational living, the group includes families with young children, retired couples, single person households of different ages and young professionals couples.
Ms Chadwick said: “We are delighted. We are the largest cohousing community in the country.
“We are a neighbourhood in the true sense in that we know our neighbours and we keep an eye out for them.
“If you go back several decades, to potentially when I was a child in the 50s, people knew their neighbours and kept an eye out for the local kids.
“You could play on the streets then because there was hardly any cars like today. Your mum knew where you were. It was a whole different way of life to how it has developed today with its pressures of modern life, car usage,and the lack of walking.
“Cohousing is about intentional communities and a build that fosters community engagement and opportunity. This is why we have a shared common house where we’ve got a number of shared facilities. We have a community kitchen that we can use to do shared meals and other events.
“Our overarching rule is respect. Respect for each other, our built environment, our natural environment and the environment in the greater sense.
“We are not green but we are all keen on recycling. We didn’t want gas on site so everything is electric and weall use suppliers who use renewable energy.
“Everything is designed to lighten our footprint on the environment. We also have a gym and workshop and the great hall where we have community meals, community rooms for pilates and meetings, craft groups, mother and baby meetings.
“It is all for us to use as a community. When we are full, there will be around 100 people plus kids. We all know each other. It is about getting back to a collective responsibility for the community and ourselves, each other and the environment as well as being connected. “Don’t get me wrong, we communicate in the modern ways, but modern life today is totally disconnected.”
Marmalade Lane is also the first council-led cohousing scheme in the city, and was designed by Mole Architects for joint developers TOWN and Trivselhus. It involved extensive collaboration with the cohousing residents, with planning permission being submitted in December 2015 and granted the following October. Construction commenced in June 2017 and finished in January 2019.
Mole principal and design director, Meredith Bowles, added: “The first residents moved in just before Christmas and it is a very exciting time. It is the culmination of many years of effort from many different people.
“One of expressions sometimes used for cohousing is an intentional community, which I think describes it very well. It is people getting together to live in a neighbourhood before it exists. The dynamics are therefore completely different. There is a degree of shared ownership, not a huge amount but significant, so they all share a big garden. They also have a common house, laundry, library, workshop and gym, there are lots of things you buy into when you by one of the houses.
“This is the first in Cambridgeand it is certainly one of the largest.
“This combines the opportunity to think about how you make a piece of the city in a better way at the same time as working on a housing project which involves a community and not just bricks and mortar.
“We spent a lot of time looking at the traditional streets closer to Cambridge which people seemed to like a lot, and the likes included the width of the streets and the height of the houses.
“There is some similarities with the streets off Mill Road. People want more light more space better storage and a better connection to outside. What I think is true, is that the appeal of traditional centres of towns which are generally comprised of terraced houses and traditional streets, remains undimmed.
“They are nearly always the more expensive parts of the cities. I think there is something about a walkable neighbourhood with a community that people find appealing. It is about keeping that terraced street feel in a modern way.”
Jonny Anstead,director ofTOWN, said: “It has been great fun. It is quite unusual for developers to get to know their customers and that is what we’ve basically been able to do. We have worked together on many aspects of the project. When we got involved, the brief was very detailed and the cohousing community had been working on it with an architect for a year. It is one of the few in the UK and one of the very few that is multi-generational and quite large compared to some other cohousing schemes.
“It is a town-based scheme and part of a wider community at Orchard Park and these things make it quite unique. We built a place for the community to live in but they have built the community. That is what wonderful about it.”
Cambridge city council which worked with K1 Cohousing and appointed joint developers TOWN and Trivselhus to design, plan and deliver the project, in collaboration with future residents.
The £8 million scheme saw Mole Architects, draw on TOWN’s advocacy of street-based development to create a scheme that knits into the wider neighbourhood whilst meeting K1 Cohousing’s need for private and shared spaces. Homes are arranged in terraces which front existing streets and create a new one – Marmalade Lane – helping to make sure the development looks outwards as well as in.
The terraces enclose the large shared garden with an open aspect, while the common house faces south onto the garden, acting as a gateway between public and cohousing realms and a focal building for the K1 Cohousing community. The scheme includes communal waste stores and 146 cycle parking spaces, and car parking is kept to the periphery.
As a custom-build development, each household has selected one of five ‘shell’ house or flat types which they have then configured through the floor-by-floor selection of floor plans, kitchen and bathroom fittings, and one of four external brick specifications.
Homes are thus tailored to individual requirements without the risks or complexity of self-build and whilst balancing personalisation with the harmony of a visually cohesive architectural style based on repeating wall and window proportions, porches and balconies.
The brick-clad houses are built using Trivselhus’s Climate Shield closed panel timber frame system, which is precision-manufactured in southern Sweden. This ensures exceptional thermal efficiency and airtightness (and thus low energy bills for residents) and consistently high build quality, and permits easy configuration of floor plans to suit individual needs.
Triple-glazed composite aluminium and timber windows and electrical ducting are factory-fitted, making for rapid construction on site, with a single house being able to be erected in two days. Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) systems in all homes ensure a comfortable internal environment, and air source-heat pumps provide low carbon electricity.
THE COMMON HOUSE
The common house is at the physical and social heart of the K1 Cohousing community.
An architectural one-off contrasting with the familiar rhythm of the terraces, this cross-laminated timber structure includes a double-height ‘great hall’ overlooking a terrace and the shared garden, and communal facilities and three guest bedrooms which can be booked by residents to avoid the wasted space of additional bedrooms in their individual homes.
The house shares a lobby and lift access with 10 large, dual and triple-aspect
two-bedroom apartments across three storeys, each with a south-west facing balcony or terrace overlooking the shared garden and a triple-aspect one bedroom affordable flat.
HOW THE COHOUSING COMMUNITY EVOLVED
K1 Cohousing grew out of rising interest in cohousing in Cambridge from the early 2000s, coalescing around the opportunity of the K1 site from 2008.
With support from Cambridge city council, the group worked to establish the feasibility of development, attract new members, develop a vision
and prepare a client brief, leading to a developer competition in 2014.
The development of Marmalade Lane has been fully financed by Trivselhus. K1 Cohousing, members purchase properties in a conventional way, with each purchaser becoming a director of Cambridge Cohousing Ltd, the owner of the site freehold and the common parts.
Residents pay a service charge to equip and maintain shared facilities. In recognition of the project’s environmental credentials, members are able to make use of mortgages from the Ecology Building Society.
There are currently 21 cohousing groups in the UK. The inaugural national community-led housing conference took place in November 2017. A £200 million community housing fund was announced at the conference by the Minister of State for Housing and Planning at that time, Alok Sharma MP.
More by this authorAdrian Curtis