UK co-housing development offers community and friendship for older women

New UK co-housing development offers community and friendship for older women

The Older Women’s Co-Housing (OWCH) is set to open its own purpose-built block of flats in London this November – 18 years after the group first came up with the idea.

The £7 million project – which is the first in the UK designed for and by older people – is in High Barnet and was originally the idea of Shirley Meredeen, who co-founded the Growing Old Disgracefully networkwith Madeleine Levius.

In 1998, aged in her late 60’s and just retired, Shirley attended a co-housing workshop organised by social policy academic Maria Brenton.

She had been traveling around Europe researching options for women ‘helping each other out’ in older age and came across the co-housing model, based on people living close to, but not with each other, in the Netherlands.

Women only

Taking their inspiration from this, Shirley and Madeleine formed the co-housing group and – after numerous delays and funding problems – set about creating their own community for older women.

It’s one of the things that makes the project unique – most other co-housing developments are mixed according to the UK Cohousing Network.

However, the group says housing for older women is of particular importance as they age.

“Women live longer than men, and many have fewer resources because they’ve been cut out of the workforce bringing up children,” Ms Brenton, now aged 70 and the group’s adviser, says.

While men can visit, they can only stay for six weeks before they have to leave.

There will be 26 women aged 50 to 86 moving into the community, which has 17 flats for sale on 250-year leases and eight for social rent to OWCH members. The largest three-bedroom flats cost about £400,000.

Members also share a common room, guest accommodation, garden and laundry.

The scheme is also meant to help the women avoid some of the social isolation and loneliness older people can experience living by themselves.

Some of the OWCH women are widowed or divorced while others are single.

“It’s a way of retaining your independence and your dignity and being among people who can be supportive of you at the same time,” Ms Meredeen, now 86, says.

But with the latest research showing older women are at the most risk of homelessness, it may just be the solution to a growing problem.

Visit the community’s website here.

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A special thanks to our contributors

Caroline Egan

DCM Media, agedcare101

Caroline has a wealth of experience writing within the retirement and aged care sector and is a contributing journalist for the and agedcare101 blog and accompanying newsletters.

Ian Horswill


Ian is a journalist, writer and sub-editor for the aged care sector, working at The DCM Group. He writes for The Weekly Source, agedcare101, and the DCM Institute fortnightly newsletter Friday. Ian is in daily contact with CEOs of retirement living, land lease and the aged care operations and makes a new contact every week. He investigates media releases, LinkedIn and Facebook for a good source for ideas for stories.

Lauren Broomham

Retirement and Aged Care Journalist

Lauren is a journalist for, agedcare101 and The Donaldson Sisters. Growing up in a big family in small town communities, she has always had a love for the written word, joining her local library at the age of six months. With over eight years' experience in writing and editing, she is a keen follower of news and current affairs with a nose for a good story.

Jill Donaldson


Jill has been practicing as a clinical physiotherapist for 30 years. For the last 13 years she has worked solely in the Aged Care sector in more than 50 metropolitan and regional facilities. Jill has also toured care facilities in the US and Africa and is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff who care for them. She researches and writes for DCM Media.

Chris Baynes

DCM Media, agedcare101

Chris has been a journalist and publisher in the retirement village and aged care sectors for 11 years. He has visited over 250 retirement villages and 50 aged care facilities both within Australia and internationally. Chris is a regular speaker at industry conferences plus is a frequent radio commentator.

Annie Donaldson

Nurse and Carer

Annie has a long career in both nursing and the media. She has planned and co-ordinated the medical support from both international TV productions and major stadium events. In recent years she has been a primary family carer plus involved in structured carer support.