Springhill Cohousing

This case study shows how alternative-housing models can help promote more socially supportive communities.

Location: Northwest edge of Stroud, Gloucestershire


Springhill Cohousing is an example of a ‘co-housing’ project where individuals and families have their own private home but also have access to shared spaces where they can meet their neighbours, spend time together and cook together.

While this model of housing will not suit everyone, for some it provides an opportunity to live in a co-operative, social environment and it may be particularly helpful in overcoming loneliness and isolation for older people.

Project details

Springhill was the first in a programme of developments by the Cohousing Company Ltd, a housing developer with a progressive approach to design, the environment and new ways of living. Planning permission was granted in 2001 and the scheme was completed in 2004.

The project is based on a Danish model of ‘co-operative housing’ where individuals/families have their own home and there are shared ‘common spaces’ where residents can come together to share meals, socialise and also meet more formally. Designed by Architype, there are 35 homes in all in the Springhill Cohousing scheme including studio flats, two-bedroom apartments and larger family homes.

There is an expectation that residents will contribute to ‘communitarian’ living, coming together not only for formal meetings to consider ongoing issues such as cleaning, maintenance, finance and gardening, but also for informal get-togethers, events and celebrations. Of the 70-80 residents, nearly half regularly eat together in the communal space, where there is a rota for cooking meals. When an event is organised (for example a children’s party) all residents will usually be invited.

Shared facilities include a workshop, laundry and space for games. Outside there are shared gardens, a play space, bin storage and a composting area, space for cultivation and a chicken run. Some residents have made informal arrangements for car sharing.

The residents of Springhill became equal directors of the company undertaking the development, and remain as directors of the company owning the freehold of the site. They each individually own the leasehold of their house or flat.


  • The site was a brownfield site, which was allocated for housing in Local Plan.

  • There was some opposition from local politicians who felt the project was controversial and likely to be unpopular with neighbouring residents.

  • The planning authority was also unconvinced as the project was seen as unusual and innovative

  • It took 4-5 years to overcome resistance.

  • The scheme was promoted nationally through ‘alternative’ online noticeboards and sources celebrating alternative ways of living.

  • Nationally around 100 people expressed interest – many were people wishing to move away from the southeast who had equity from the sale of properties in London.


  • Two meetings are held monthly, one ‘formal’ and one ‘discussion’.

  • Committees manage cleaning, the cooking rota, maintenance, gardening and welcoming visitors (there is a bookable flat where visitors can stay).

  • Residents own their own home and the communal areas are jointly owned.

  • There is an expectation that each resident will contribute twenty hours a year to the management of the property.

Key Details


• Originally funded via a loan from the Co-operative Bank.
• Members paid a ‘pre-contract equity payment’ of £5,000-30,000 (depending on house size), which funded the mortgage.
• Individual homes were funded first as the communal areas were thought likely to be perceived as ‘riskier’ by lenders.
• Residents pay a service charge, which is calculated based on the area of their home.
• Residents also contribute to a sinking fund for maintenance.

Community involvement

The project’s appeal was national rather than local.

Who are the key stakeholders involved?



Stroud District Council (planning authority)

Impact: What are the outcomes? Who benefits?

Residents seeking this kind of shared lifestyle – a community that may be small but is growing.

The environmental impact on neighbours is lower because of the emphasis on sustainability. However, there are some concerns that cohousing schemes and their residents do not always integrate into the local neighbourhood.

So what?

What are the risks and challenges for initiating and also maintaining this initiative?

The JRF report suggests that developments of this nature ‘need to take risks’ but can bring significant advantages. (2)
The developer took a significant risk in acquiring the land before securing planning permission, especially in the light of local resistance to the development. The CDLH study suggests that the project would have benefited from ‘advice on development’. (1)

Projects of this nature are seen as ‘great for children, not so good for teenagers’ – so there is a risk that as a family grows up their home may no longer suit their needs.

The project requires residents to show a commitment to a level of communal living, for example cooking communally once a month, but there could be a risk that residents become disillusioned with the lifestyle as the novelty wanes. ‘Sociability’ as well as ‘viability’ is seen as key.

Homes bought as part of the project could later be sold for a substantial profit – one bought for £190,000 was later sold for £440,000 – there is a risk that people might buy as a speculative investment without wishing to commit to community life. The costs are beyond the reach of people on low incomes.

Key learning

The JRF report focuses on co-housing as a model for older people’s housing. It cites benefits as creating options for informal care of older people while maintaining a degree of independence, and for downsizing. It also suggests that ‘a reasonably wide age span’ of residents is important.

The report suggests that potential pitfalls include unfamiliarity, both for potential residents and the planning authority; the high cost of development land; and the dominance of ‘volume’ housing developers. It suggests that ‘direction from Government’ will be required if this model is to become established.

All sources support the view that these projects are ‘organic’ and take time to establish.

This style of living will clearly appeal to some individuals more than others. While Stroud’s reputation as a place where ‘alternative’ lifestyles thrive has become rather a cliché in Gloucestershire, it is likely that this experiment in communitarian living might stand a better chance of being accepted in Stroud than in places which are perceived as more ‘conformist’ or traditional.

Source/s of information

(1) ‘A case study of Springhill Co-Housing, Stroud, Gloucestershire’, Steven Tolson (CDLH), 2016

(2) Senior Co-Housing Communities: an alternative approach for the UK? Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2013); https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/senior-cohousing-communities-%E2%80%93-alternative-approach-uk

(3) Springhill Co-housing website; http://www.therightplace.net/coco/public/ (last updated April 2017)

(4) Spatial Agency website “co-housing”; spatialagency.net/database/co-housing

(5) Architype website “Springhill Co-Housing”; https://www.architype.co.uk/project/springhill-co-housing/