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Lancaster Cohousing

The Lancaster Cohousing group is situated near Halton on the River Lune near Lancaster. They have recently completed 41 custom build certified Passivhauses including flats and houses, and a communal building along with lots of communal facilities. There are some existing industrial buildings on the site which have been improved and converted.

This is an example of communal custom build with extremely high ecological standards. Apart from being certified Passivhaus it attains the (now defunct) CSH level 6 standard and Lifetime Homes.

The site is long and narrow, running alongside the river, and quite steeply sloping and south facing. This resulted in several terraces with walkways between. It also meant that solar energy was viable.

transport and buildable area

Because the residents wanted to cut down on car usage there are very few roads or parking spaces. An agreement was reached with the planners that only six cars would be owned by the members of the group and this led to more space being allowed for building on rather than parking. Half a dozen of the residents own cars and parking spaces out of necessity but otherwise cars are shared, including an electric one which derives its energy from solar.

Included in this planning agreement was that residents could not park their cars within a couple of kilometers of the development. (Planners are keen to avoid the situation where a developer might try to provide too little parking space resulting in residents parking on the highway).

There is a cycle route between the cohousing and Lancaster and there are excellent facilities for storing and working on bikes (along with quite a few canoes).

energy production and saving

While Passivhaus design aims for extremely low energy use, a small amount still needs to be supplied to each house and Lancaster Cohousing has utilised both solar (thermal and 89kW pv) and biomass (woodchip boiler) so far and is in the process of constructing a 150kW hydro power generator which will be powered by the river Lune.

The woodchip boiler is situated in one of the existing old industrial buildings which were present on the site when the group bought it.

The woodchip fuel is sourced locally and supplied by the company which installed the boiler. (It is important that wood chip fuel is of the correct grade and moisture content. There have been several cases in the past where damp wood chip has caused considerable problems by jamming in the supply auger).

Solar energy from rooftop pv panels is partly used to power the group’s electric car.

The hydro electric turbine installation is being constructed further upstream on the river Lune

Each house/flat has a single radiator which is sufficient for a high degree of comfort due to the huge amount of insulation. Ventilation is by means of heat recovery units which bring in a constant flow of fresh air which is heated from the warm outgoing air (MVHR)

MVHR unit in the downstairs bathroom. Manufactured by PAUL

design and construction

A handful of original members bought the site from a building company which had gone bust and then the design of the whole site was worked out with the architect. The construction is mainly concrete blockwork with OSB based internal linings although the south facing walls with the large windows were constructed as a timber frame. To keep withing budget there is a good deal of repetition in the house designs and to make the best use of the rather difficult sloping site a considerable amount of leveling of land had to be done using gabions.

a serious amount of gabions to build up an awkward corner of the site

more gabions to the rescue

Detailing is to quite a high standard and of course windows are triple glazed and doors and windows extremely well insulated and well sealed. Window frames are PVC which may be controversial to those who would like to see oil production phased out. Rain water goods are galvanised steel.

In line with the cohousing ethos, the houses themselves are slightly smaller in size than might normally be the case because things like spare bedrooms, washing machines, storage areas etc. are provided in the shared areas.

shared areas

Apart from the shared communal area there is a workshop, a children’s inside play area, an area to store bulk purchased food, a cycle store, a laundry, an office and post area (individual letter boxes in house doors are generally so drafty that they would spoil the high levels of air tightness required for the passivhaus standard). Also shared guest bedrooms.

The kitchen corner in the in the communal house. Groups of 3 people cook for everyone once a month.

Architects are ecoarc

There is a Guardian blog


The two main books on cohousing are both excellent and well worth reading partly because of the range of examples they give on the continent and the US.

The other book

covers what is something of a relatively recent departure from the central idea of cohousing,. This can be seen as a bit of an anachronism because the original idea of cohousing was of a fairly balanced community albeit often with its own particular flavour, rather than being age specific. Anyway, not wanting to split hairs……


3 comments to Lancaster Cohousing

  • demetrio dowland

    We are a relatively new CIC looking to develop up to 40 homes in 2 towns on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. We are getting towards the public consultation and final bidding for funding stage, and would love to have some information from other successful social and self build groups from around the country to give some points of reference to the displays we will be creating about our group.
    Do you have any images/information pieces we could use as part of a display.

  • Charlotte

    A friend of mine is trying to sell his 2-bed cottage in Bentham. The reason I am emailing you is because it has a large garden with planning permission for another 2-bed cottage, and I thought you might know of people who would be interested in taking on a self-build project there. Please feel free to circulate to any you think might be interested. The details can be found at
    Many thanks and all the best with your amazing work.

  • Amanda Burridge

    Hi , I live locally and wondered how u could find. Out more about the project . I have learned a little about Walter segal housing ect and would love to know more about this local project. Regards Amanda

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