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Workshops. The secret sauce for cohousing communities?

Zoom Workshop
Zoom Workshop

The average time from formation of a cohousing community to move-in is a heart-stopping 5-7 years. Our own community will likely take 6 ½ years. Over that extended period of time life often intrudes with members moving away, personal financial circumstances changing or major external events (like COVID) impacting a project. Even without such challenges, communities need to figure out how to keep members engaged over such a long time span.

So, how do you keep group enthusiasm growing? You need a strategy.
Early on we began looking for other similar communities that were farther down the path to help us. It wasn’t an easy task. We are unusual for three reasons: we are small (just 12 families), we are urban, unlike 90+ percent of cohousing communities and we are innovating (cohousing lite).

Fortunately, we connected with Grace Kim and Sheila Hoffman at Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing (CHUC) who were building a community very much like ours. CHUC is even smaller (nine households), right in the heart of Seattle and using an innovative approach to cohousing (kind of a Canadian co-op rental model). They have been unbelievably generous in sharing what worked for them.

Grace’s key message for us: The bond among members is the most important determinant of your community’s success.

“We committed early on to workshops, retreats and group learning opportunities. Even now, four years after moving in, we do an annual overnight retreat to recharge our energy and remember what cohousing is all about.”

We are following Grace’s guidance in our community.
In the last seven months, we’ve organized three workshops. In November, two Capitol Hill members spent a day with us talking about what had worked well in their community and offering practical suggestions on activities like setting up a plan for dinners three times a week. In February, our developer and architect offered a design workshop, firming up the details for our building. And just this weekend, Nancy Barker, a Compassionate Communication practitioner, gave us a workshop that helped us think about how we will approach conflict in our community.

After each workshop, we usually feel like we’ve gotten to know each other better, learned something we didn’t know before and expanded the way we think about our community. Most important, we seem to recapture our initial enthusiasm for creating a cohousing community together.