Moving in together to start a new way of life in Sheffield

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A group is trying to forge a ‘different way of living’ with a new project in Sheffield.

Nine residents have bought Brincliffe House, a large building on Osborne Road, Brincliffe, last used as NHS offices but empty since 2012, with the aim of setting up a ‘co-housing community’ called On The Brink.

Members will have their own individual living space, but there will also be communal areas for the sharing of cooking, eating, gardening, relaxing and holding meetings.

One of the key aims of the project is to be as environmentally-friendly as possible - the group will share cars and other resources, residents will grow food and the house is to be made more energy-efficient as part of a big revamp.

A planning application has been submitted to Sheffield Council to divide the house into 12 apartments.

Kate Housden, who has moved into Brincliffe House after downsizing from elsewhere in Nether Edge with her partner, former council planning officer Paul Skelton, said the total cost of the project, from purchasing the building to completing the transformation from offices, will be £2.2 million.

Residents are currently aged in their 40s to late 60s, forming seven households. The group is looking for further couples, single people or families to take the remaining flats.

“Three of us sold our houses and are living in the office accomodation until we get planning permission and, hopefully, the funding is in place for the building to start,” said Kate, aged 64, who spent many years working in the voluntary sector in Sheffield.

“We have got a mission statement. We want to be an inclusive community and we want to, if we can, have a broad age range - young people, families, single people, old people, people who might need some support because they’ve got a disability.”

On The Brink dates back several years, when meetings took place to set up a citywide ‘co-housing’ network.

“Out of that several groups grew, including ours,” said Kate. Another organisation, Five Rivers, is looking at putting up a new building on one of Sheffield’s vacant sites.

The idea of co-housing started in the late 1960s in Denmark, when a group of 50 families was inspired to build a different type of neighbourhood from the mainstream. 
There are now hundreds of communities across Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and the US. As of last year there were 20 established co-housing arrangements in the UK, and over 70 in development.

Supporters view the concept as a way of combating loneliness and isolation, recreating the neighbourly support of the past. Communities are often formed on the basis of principles and priorities.

In 2013 Kate and Paul were part of a smaller group trying to buy Brincliffe Towers next to Chelsea Park, but the plan fell through. Brincliffe House then came on the market.

Before being used by the NHS, the property - built in 1852 as a private family residence - was the headquarters of Laycocks Engineering. Over the years it has been extended and added to.

Paying for the project poses a challenge. A crowdfunding campaign is being launched soon, and institutions such as the Ecology Building Society and the Charity Bank have been approached.

Designs are being drawn up by architects TatlowStancer. Part of the wider planning will involve looking at complex issues around basic matters such as heating.

“People have individual needs,” Kate said. “There are at least two people in our group of nine who really feel the cold. The NHS staff who used to work here used to have supplementary heating on in the summer.”

Regular events are being held with neighbours to keep them informed of progress, Kate added. “Generally speaking everybody seems to think it’s a great idea.”

n Visit https://onthebrink.community/ for details,