Nine of us made an early start on Saturday morning, in search of a taste of the Danish co-living dream in the Copenhagen suburb of Roskilde. Following a very British-style train delay, we trundled our way along semi-rural bike lanes lined with fields of sheep and cows, beginning our tour of three cohousing communities.
Our first stop was Bakkefaldet in the new district of Trekroner, home to a cluster of newly built cohousing developments; an area designated for cohousing by the municipality. We were welcomed with much needed coffee in the common house and heard how the group of 27 young families had established their community, ate meals together during the week and brought up their children together. The benefits of this way of living seemed obvious; working groups to manage various aspect of daily life meant cooking for the family was a weekly not a daily task and the children always had someone to play with.
Next stop was senior cohousing community Højen, where were treated to Flødeboller (a sort of Danish Tunnock’s Teacake!) and topped up our caffeine levels. Here we heard of the benefits of the mutual support and companionship which comes from co-living in older age, from participating in hobby groups and blues bands to offering a helping hand when someone gets sick. All hobbies were accommodated in the common house, with a shared gym, band room, commercially sized kitchen and fully stocked workshop.
We then pedalled across to the other side of town to visit Kæphøj, a longer established community. Our chat here uncovered some of the social and economic challenges faced as a community matures, with new generations of neighbours joining or leaving and homes requiring refurbishment. We were also joined by Max Pederson, an academic whose research focuses on senior cohousing, who explained to us the history of the movement in Denmark and helped put our visits into context.
Although a seemingly idyllic way of life, co-living is clearly not without its challenges and complexities. Financial models and ownership structures differed for all communities. A good amount of organisation, planning, patience and will to compromise is required to establish the group and housing, and then keep it all running smoothly.
What was apparent from the visit is that a willingness to share with your neighbours can offer not only social, but spatial advantages. The architecture was externally fairly modest and simple, and interiors light and unmistakeably Scandinavian. A greater generosity of space had been achieved across all schemes by consolidating the most cluttering aspects of everyday life into a shared house. By taking out the things that can be shared – and are better for being shared – such as the large toys, big TV, laundry, gym equipment, power tools, a calmer and brighter living environment had been achieved (with the help of some large, well-placed windows!). Externally, private gardens were small and easy to maintain, with secure areas for the children to play together, and plots to grow food were offered in the communal gardens at the heart of each scheme.