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We explain what cohousing is, how communities work and the pros and cons for older people living in such a community.
4 min read
In this article
What is cohousing? Cohousing and older people The pros and cons of cohousing
Other housing options

What is cohousing?

Cohousing is all about community. It’s also called community-led housing. People live in private, self-contained homes but share communal areas and amenities, and socialise or eat together. Cohousing schemes typically contain between eight and 40 households.

A cohousing community might be a new purpose-built development, an old estate, a set of streets or even a cul-de-sac. But it’s the people that make the community, not the houses. Cohousing communities are created and run by their residents, so there is no outside help to manage the community or maintain facilities.

Cohousing is a relatively new concept in the UK. It started to develop in the country towards the late 1990s. The first communities were all owner-occupied, but an increasing number of housing associations and other groups are designing cohousing communities and looking for new ways to offer affordable housing to buy or rent.

Most communities consist of a mix of families, single people and couples, but some are specifically for people over 50. There is increasing interest in women-only or LGBT cohousing communities.

A central area

Most cohousing communities are built around a central area. This is the hub of the community and might contain a communal kitchen, shared laundry and a large eating area where everyone can eat together. There might also be a guest room where members of the community can have visitors to stay.


Cohousing communities are often built to be sustainable, using renewable energy and other eco-friendly ways of living.


The community will usually decide on communal tasks that have to be done and allocate jobs to certain people. That might mean putting in a few hours per week to help your community – by mowing the communal lawn, painting a fence, gardening or cooking a group meal.

Sharing resources

People living in cohousing can save money and be more environmentally friendly, by sharing appliances and gadgets. For example, using communal laundry facilities, and sharing garden and DIY tools.

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Cohousing and older people

Some cohousing communities are for families, and others are specifically for older people. Cohousing for older people can help to tackle feelings of loneliness and isolation. Members of the community look out for each other and give one another mutual support.


For many older people, cohousing can remind them of the neighbourhood spirit they knew when growing up. It can offer company for older people, but it doesn’t suit everyone. If this is an option that you (or someone you’re supporting) would like to consider further, it may be useful to attend an open day. UK Cohousing has details of open days, as well as more information and advice about cohousing, and a directory of cohousing communities in your area. 

The pros and cons of cohousing

There are some obvious benefits to cohousing:

Checklist (ticks)
  • Reduced costs: sharing resources can help to cut daily living costs
  • Environmentally friendly: sharing resources can help to reduce the impact on the environment
  • Good neighbours: offering mutual help and support
  • A sense of community: can help to combat loneliness and isolation
  • Sharing jobs: many hands make light work
  • Security: community members look out for each other.

However, living in a close-knit community doesn’t suit everyone and there are some disadvantages.

Checklist (crosses)
  • Lack of privacy/time alone: although everyone has their private home there is an expectation to participate in the community. So, this isn’t for you if you like being alone.
  • Work commitment: members of the community share the workload and this might be too much for some older people with illnesses or disabilities.
  • No specialist care or support: unlike sheltered housing or retirement villages, there are no onsite care options. Although people can still use care at home services
  • Community decisions: many decisions are made by the group so you can’t always make the choices that best suit you.


Other housing options


Cohousing has its advantages but it isn’t right for everybody and may not be available where you live. Plus, if you need more specialist care or support, it might not be the best option. There are other housing choices that might better suit your needs such as:

  • Retirement villages: large housing developments with enhanced facilities built especially for people in later life. 

  • Sheltered housing: accommodation specifically designed for older people to allow them to live independently.

  • Extra care housing: a form of sheltered housing that provides a higher level of support. For example, help with personal care is available to those who need it. 

Use our calculator to find out how much you might pay a home care agency in your area and what financial support is available.

Further reading

What is sheltered housing?

How do you choose suitable sheltered housing, and what facilities do they offer? Our guide explains your options.

Last updated: 27 Nov 2020