The streets of Ciren

Walking the streets of Cirencester on bleak mid-winter days can be quite enjoyable. The townscape comes into its own, enhanced by the elegant Christmas lights twinkling over the main shopping streets. Now that the trees are bare, I get a better feel for layout of the town because I can see across open spaces, car parks and boundaries that hide buildings and roads. Today’s townscape is shaped by medieval street patterns. The main entrance to Cirencester is still Corinium Gate which during Roman times was 30 metres wide! 

Once you get off the three main streets that fan out into the old town keeping your bearings can be tricky. I remember being elated on finding a route into the old town via the junction of The White Way and Spital Gate, or getting to Cecily Hill, the main entrance to Cirencester Park, without taking a wrong turn. 

Black Jack Street is one of my favourites, not just because of the name but because it feels like one of those small lanes in a French town, jammed with tables and chairs, colourful shop fronts and intriguing alleys into former stable yards and workshops. 

The lack of foliage at this time of year exposes the close proximity between homes and the ring road which tightly hugs the perimeter of the town. The ring road has been so well designed that it invites drivers to treat it like a race track. I can’t understand why the authorities have not imposed an urban speed limit on the it. National speed restrictions apply but the many with powerful cars exceed that with ease, creating an awful din that is heard from every corner of the town.

 

Lockdown hairstyles trending again

It took ages before Lucy could be persuaded to take up the clippers to cut my hair during the first wave of lockdowns. She has become rather competent in doing a number 1 cut and now offers her hairdressing services to the wider family. Here is me with my father in law, Dan, who is 31 years my senior. He doesn’t look it does he? Amazing what a good hair cut can do for you! 

 


Ronnie Scott’s comes to Ciren

A couple of weeks ago we went to a live music event organised by the Barn Theatre that was billed as the ‘Boogie Woogie’ sensation playing Ronnie Scott’s in London and the Birdland Jazz Club in New York. A pianist called Tom Seals sang, played and told stories of the famed and famous at Ingleside House while the audience tucked into a fabulous range of dishes prepared by the Theatro restaurant. When I lived in London I used to be a regular at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, relishing the performances by the big names playing right in front of me. In the late 80s you could eat in a small part of the auditorium only (and there were tickets at the door!) but as time went by Ronnie’s became a venue where you couldn’t get a ticket without also booking dinner – often sitting at small tables with hardly enough room for your plate and wine glass. The Ciren event had all the charm of an intimate jazz club and as the music played and the glasses clinked it felt as though I was back at Ronnie Scott’s – enjoying a good show in more comfort and at a fraction of Ronnie’s prices. There was a lot of Jools Holland and Elton John that evening and perhaps not quite enough of the ‘boogie woogie’ that Tom Seals promised but we had a fantastic night and very much hope that Ronnie’s will come to Ciren again soon.  

The Ciren Diaries: The Jazz Cave

 

Cirencester is the best town I’ve ever lived in. I am an urbanite though and through: born in Berlin, working on urban regeneration for most of my life and living near the big UK cities, I enjoy the vibe of the city, the crowds, markets, restaurants (in particular), music, theatre and so on. But this little town on the edge of the Cotswolds takes the biscuit. Since moving here three months ago there is not a single week in which I am not excited, enchanted or simply pleased with something that Cirencester puts my way. I decided that I would write a blog which might encourage people to get in touch with our ‘Cirencester Co-housing’ project. I will post every time something great happens. So here goes!

The Jazz Cave is in the cellar of the King’s Head Hotel in the centre on the market square. For a town with just 19,000 inhabitants, having a regular jazz concert is quite something. Once a month the ‘Little Music Company’ organises a gig with local and national musicians. This month we had the Sara Coleman Quartet with a repertoire of Joni Mitchel and her own songs. Last month we had a band playing Chet Baker’s music. I noticed that the same base player was in both bands and found out that his name is Paul, he is the husband of Jayne who manages the events, and Paul does not miss an opportunity to join the fun. It is such a great venue, quite small with attentive staff who give these events a personal touch. There is a ‘Christmas Special’ on 9th December and I am already looking forward to it.    


 Computer generated pictures of our project


Pictures generated by Paul of Cubico from the 3D model of the buildings. 












More Progress

Boring but necessary... 

Legal stuff

We have been recruiting a solicitor to negotiate the purchase of our site and all other legal
matters surrounding the development. Candidate firms were sent a set of questions and then interview over Zoom, starting from 4 and narrowing down to 2. As we more or less suspected, the most suitable ones were those with prior experience of cohousing projects. The two lucky companies have been asked to provide quotes for our work and we hope that these won’t be too horrific.

Social Housing

We have always intended that our cohousing should have some homes that are “social housing”, ie. that are available to less well-off people, either as “affordable” lets or as shared ownership. For our homes to qualify for this, they must be owned and managed by a Housing Association or similar organisation. Thus we need a Housing Association as a partner and particularly one that will allow us to select tenants or owner / occupiers who accept our values. For this, our stalwart interviewers have interviewed two HAs, one small and very local, one much larger but still quite local. Of these, we are going with the larger one, since they are better placed to finance building new houses and were enthusiastic enough for their CEO to come to our meeting.

Policies

One of our most important and most difficult policies to decide was to decide how we decide things! This meant that we had to formalise how (or whether) we reach a consensus over a decision, how to handle dissent and when to give up on consensus and resort to majority voting. This procedure was decided at the beginning of February and has been applied since then, successfully we think.

We have examined our policy on parking and transport. The effects of our proposed car pool on the number of car parking bays required are not easy to work out, so we have asked the UK Cohousing Network to survey existing members on how they work to help us. Do we have to make an initial charge to reserve a space or an annual charge to keep a car? The number of spaces becomes quite significant when you are paying one million pounds or more for a site of a bit over an acre.

Also in the mill has been the policy regarding pets. We don’t want to tread in dog poo in our common areas or to be kept awake by barking but also we don’t want to deprive people of their treasured companions, so some degree of flexibility is required. We’ve decided to create a Pets Committee as first line of decision-making and to put a limit of two cats or dogs per household and 32 such pets in the community. Needless to say, we’re banning dangerous pets (crocodiles, venomous snakes…) from the site.

Along with the policies on how to join the community, prospective members are interested in the ramifications of leaving, and therefore we are laying down our policy for the resale of homes, which in turn relates to our policy on allocating vacant ones. The main controversies in this policy lie in how to deal with a case when the home does not sell and in whether the community is entitled to any proportion of the sale price to fund long-term repairs or improvements to communal facilities.


Progress!

While we’ve been in lockdown, we’ve been really busy…

The Site

Since the developers have now opened marketing for the site, we have submitted our proposal and must wait with bated breath to see what their response is…


Design



Our architect, Peter, has redesigned the plans of our homes and the Common House a number of times, partly in response to requests from our members, partly in order to reduce the size of the site, to meet access requirements for Building Regulations and to make the design more in touch with its surroundings. We are conscious that the Common House is an expensive building to include in the development, so it is very important that it suits our requirements to a T. However, as we are (mostly) totally new to communal living, we find it difficult to decide how much we will use any particular facility within it. For example, how much use will we make of guest bedrooms?  How many loos do we need? We can all take a punt at this sort of thing, but we really won’t know until we move in.


The range of houses has also been changed. People pointed out that if we want to attract families, we should have family-sized houses! So Peter has added another 3-bed house and a 4-bed one as well. 


Getting to know us

We hold a weekly social zoom on Thursday evenings at 7 pm for an hour to keep in touch and for new and existing group members to get to know each other.  Please let us have your details at enquiry@cirencoho.org.uk so that we can tell you more about our scheme and invite you to the zoom.




 New Members!

In early August 2020, Cirencester Cohousing (CirenCoHo) welcomed five new members, ranging in age from 21 to 84.  Each prospective member took a few minutes to share with others in the group their reasons for wanting to join a cohousing community and CirenCoHo in particular.  As each person did this they told a little of their life story.  One person described what she had gained from a previous experience of living in community and a desire to share her gifts and skills with others.   Several people spoke of personal loss and a desire for connection with others.  Another explained how the impact and isolation of lockdown had crystalised her decision to live as part of a community where neighbours have meaningful relationships and actively support each other rather than occasionally just nodding at each other in the street.  Listening to these accounts was very moving.  We were listening to individuals taking a risk in disclosing key experiences from their past and their hopes and longings for their future.  As the stories were told, I think we became more aware of ourselves:  listening and speaking, as a group of  varied people, trying to create a community in which we all feel we belong.  We became more aware of ourselves as an intentional community in which, despite our very real differences, rough edges and sensitivities we are feeling our way towards living in a way in which we respect and value each other and our planet.

Passivhaus and Ciren Coho

One of the most important requirements in our Client Brief is that our buildings – housing and common house – should be built to ‘passivhaus’ standard.

What is the passivhaus standard?

Passivhaus is a voluntary standard aimed at minimising energy use in buildings for space heating to greatly reduce their ecological footprint. To meet the Standard, a building must use less than 15 kWh/m2 of floor area per year for heating. This implies: a high level of insulation and air-tightness; the use of solar gain to provide heat; and minimal thermal bridging (gaps in the insulation).

Reaching the passivhaus standard requires very precise design by the architects, since they must be able to predict accurately the energy use of a building before it is built. The Passivhaus Trust, which maintains the Standard, provides a computer package (Passivhaus Planning Package or PHPP) which must be used in the design process, and this calculates estimates for energy use corresponding to the targets to be met. There are many computer packages and methods to estimate the energy use of buildings, but PHPP has been shown, across many projects, to provide very accurate estimates.


Why is it so important to our community?

It is important to us that our houses are very cheap to live in and have the same cost to heat in a year as a conventional house has in a month. We cannot assume that all our companions in the cohousing will be well-off and it would be immoral to build houses that swallow a high proportion of a limited income in energy costs.

It is important to us that our buildings use as little energy as possible so that we can generate a high proportion where we live using our own solar panels. This means that the energy use of our homes will be only a small demand on the National Grid to reduce our climate impact as far as possible.

It is important to us that our houses can be peaceful places – even if we choose to make some noise - and passivhauses are well-known for keeping out noise.