Marmalade Lane, Cambridge’s first cohousing development, is now complete and welcoming K1 Cohousing members. This marks the culmination of eighteen years of work by the group, and comes at a moment when custom-build and community-led housing are being recognised by the government as viable and attractive models for future housing.
The development comprises 42 homes – a mix of two- to five-bedroom terraced houses and one- and two-bedroom apartments. In common with other cohousing communities now established in the UK, Marmalade Lane’s shared spaces and communal facilities, designed to foster community spirit and sustainable living, are integral to the development. These include extensive shared gardens as the focal space of the community, with areas for growing food, play, socialising and quiet contemplation, and a flexible ‘common house’ with a play room, guest bedrooms, laundry facilities, meeting rooms, and a large hall and kitchen for shared meals and parties. A separate workshop and gym are located elsewhere on site. All residents are members of K1 Cohousing, have a stake in the common parts and contribute to the management of the community. Fulfilling the group’s aspiration for mixed, intergenerational living, the multi-national group includes families with young children, retired and young professional couples and single-person households of different ages.
Marmalade Lane is located in Orchard Park, an urban extension to north Cambridge built from the early 2000s. Orchard Park takes its name from the historic use of the site: the 19th century orchards in the area and proximity to the railway attracted the Chivers fruit distribution and marmalade-making business. K1 Cohousing chose the name Marmalade Lane for the new car-free street running through the development to celebrate this history, and in admiration of the company’s ethos and practices, which included a profit-sharing scheme first implemented in 1891, co-operative values echoed by those of cohousing communities.
The site, formerly known by its lot number of K1, was owned by Cambridge City Council. After sale of the site to a housebuilder fell through in the 2008 crash, the council agreed to work with K1 Cohousing to bring it forward for Cambridge’s first enabled cohousing scheme. A two-stage open developer competition, which established bidders’ design and delivery credentials before inviting financial offers, was held to find an innovative developer to translate K1 Cohousing’s vision and brief into a deliverable scheme.
TOWN and Trivselhus, with a design team led by Cambridge-based Mole Architects, were chosen in July 2015. Mole’s competition-winning design drew on TOWN’s advocacy of street-based development to create a scheme that knits into the wider neighbourhood, while meeting K1 Cohousing’s need for private and shared spaces. Homes are arranged in terraces which front existing streets and create a new one – Marmalade Lane – ensuring the development looks outwards as well as in.
The terraces enclose the large shared garden with an open aspect to the south to maximise sunlight. The Common House faces south onto the garden, acting as a gateway between public and cohousing realms and a focal ‘civic’ building for the K1 Cohousing community. The scheme includes communal waste stores and 146 cycle parking spaces, and car parking is kept to the periphery. As a custom-build development, each K1 Cohousing household selected one of five ‘shell’ house or flat types which they then configured through the floor-by-floor selection of floorplans, kitchen and bathroom fittings, and one of four external brick specifications. Wide and narrow house and ‘paired’ flat shells share a 7.8m-deep plan, allowing them to be distributed in any sequence along a terrace. Homes have been tailored to individual requirements without the risks or complexity of self-build, while balancing personalisation with the harmony of a visually cohesive architectural style based on repeating wall and window proportions, porches and balconies.
The brick-clad houses have been built using Trivselhus’s Climate Shield closed panel timber frame system, which was precision-manufactured in southern Sweden. This ensures exceptional thermal efficiency and airtightness (and thus low energy bills for residents) and consistently high build quality, and permits configuration of floorplans to suit individual needs. Triple-glazed composite aluminium and timber windows and electrical ducting are factory-fitted, making for rapid construction on site, with a single house being able to be erected in two days. Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) systems in all homes ensure a comfortable internal environment, and air source-heat pumps provide low carbon electricity.
The Common House is at the physical and social heart of the cohousing community. An architectural one-off contrasting with the familiar rhythm of the terraces, this crosslaminated timber structure includes a double-height ‘great hall’ overlooking a terrace and the shared garden, and communal facilities and three guest bedrooms which can be booked by residents to avoid the wasted space of additional bedrooms in their individual homes. The Common House shares a lobby and lift access with 10 large, dual- and triple-aspect twobedroom apartments across three storeys, each with a south-west facing balcony or terrace overlooking the shared garden, and a triple-aspect one-bedroom affordable flat.
K1 Cohousing grew out of rising interest in cohousing in Cambridge from the early 2000s, coalescing around the opportunity of the K1 site from 2008. With support from Cambridge City Council and expert professionals C2O Futureplanners and Instinctively Green, the group worked to establish the feasibility of development, attract new members, develop a vision and prepare a client brief, leading to the developer competition. Following selection in July 2015, a full planning application was submitted to South Cambridgeshire District Council in December 2015. This was prepared collaboratively with K1 Cohousing, whose members participated in several workstream groups – on energy, housing, common spaces and landscape – and attended many design team meetings.
Marmalade Lane has been fully equity-financed by Trivselhus. The site was acquired by a special-purpose vehicle (a UK limited company) wholly-owned by Trivselhus UK and with a contractual joint-venture agreement with TOWN, the lead development managers. A fixed land purchase price was agreed with Cambridge City Council based on full market value, taking account of the cohousing brief, with payment of the land price deferred to be paid out of sales revenue, aiding development cashflow, and obligations on the developer to prepare a scheme in accordance with K1 Cohousing’s brief and to sell completed homes to members of K1 Cohousing. Planning, construction and sales risk were transferred to the developer, ensuring that fulfilment of the cohousing brief was sensitised to commercial considerations. K1 Cohousing members who legally committed to purchase early were granted discounts, reflecting the developer’s reduced sales risk, and were able to exercise greatest custom choice over their homes. Members have purchased properties in a conventional way, with one person from each household becoming a director of Cambridge Cohousing Ltd, the owner of the site freehold and the common parts. Residents pay a service charge to equip and maintain shared facilities, and are expected to contribute to the management of the community through participation in one of several committees and working groups looking after different aspects of cohousing life. The community has a non-hierarchical structure, with decision-making by consensus.
Jonny Anstead, Director, TOWN:
“It’s been terrific to work with a brilliant team alongside a group of committed, principled and enthusiastic residents to help deliver this new community. Every visit to Marmalade Lane produces new surprises – football nets, rabbit hutches, children on bikes and vegetables growing – it’s great to see the place coming to life and we’re looking forward to seeing the community flourish in years to come.”
Meredith Bowles, Director, Mole Architects:
“This has been a fascinating project for us. It’s easy to forget, when talking about Britain needing thousands of new houses, that it is primarily houses that create places, and become communities. To work with a determined group of people whose main aim is to create community to live in has been inspirational.”
Elaine Brewis and Mike McMinn, 78 Topper Street:
“K1 seemed to tick so many boxes for us - new eco-friendly houses and flats located near a vibrant growing city, excellent shared facilities and a great community spirit - and we’ve achieved them all.”
Jan and Ian Chadwick, 16 Marmalade Lane:
“Triggered by an article on cohousing in the Guardian…we started to think about our situation, as 60-year olds. With one daughter, and no desire to become dependent elderly parents, we saw cohousing as a potential solution to ensure we stayed interested, lively and engaged in our community, now and during our twilight years.” “We’ve purchased our apartment ‘off plan’ in a similar way to any new build, but unlike any other housing, we have been involved in the design concept from the initial client brief in 2014 to the finished article. An approach that has made all the difference.”
Chris Wilson, 8 Marmalade Lane:
"What I am most looking forward to when I move in is relaxing in the shared garden. Gardening with friends, living with friends. One of the best things about cohousing is that our neighbourhood will be the best neighbourhood I could possibly be in. I’ll be surrounded by people that I know well. I'll be willing to look after their kids and allow my kids to be looked after by them. We'll help each other out in whichever ways are possible. We'll have parties together. We'll make decisions about how we manage our shared resources together. I think it will be a better way of living than I could have had any other way.”
Hannah Shields, 4 Marmalade Lane:
“My interest in community housing comes from various sources, but predominantly my work for the Argyle Street Housing Co-operative. Seeing it in action really made me want to live in an intentional community myself. My main driver has always been the children. I really feel that cohousing will be hugely beneficial to them, with increased freedom and a sense of extended family. I also think growing up in a community where tolerance, respect and compromise are practised through consensus decision-making will be a fantastic education in how to be an active member of society. I love the idea of our four children having so many adults beyond ourselves with whom to engage and learn from.”
Lora Brill, 76 Topper Street:
“Kind, loving neighbours who really want to connect with and support each other are the heart of cohousing. We’re very lucky to have such beautiful houses and common spaces. Some days, when you walk down the Lane, the cherry trees are waving in the wind, the children are out playing and people are chatting in backyards, and it feels like a dream come true.”
Miranda Garfoot, 7 Marmalade Lane:
“It’s a way of living that is worth the hard work. It’s an inspiring place to bring up the children. Everyone has equal status. It’s a beautiful, fulfilling environment - physically and mentally.”
Frances Wright, 10 Marmalade Lane:
"It was great to be involved with the whole journey of design and development. It means you move in with a real sense of ownership beyond your front door and you have already got to know many of your neighbours. The sense of community on moving in was instant."
Janet Eldridge, 18 Marmalade Lane:
“As a person retired and with little family, I wanted to be part of a community where I could share skills and resources as well as providing support and supporting others. Although only having been in Marmalade Lane for a very short time, I have been welcomed and made to feel at home by everyone I have met, as well as having been given help and advice willingly when needed. My apartment is wonderfully light, airy and spacious, with a large balcony looking out to the wonderful community I have joined. I feel so fortunate to have been given this opportunity to live in an environment with a lifestyle and people that match my own values concerning sustainability and the environment.”
Ian and Sophie Collins (father and daughter), 16 Graham Road:
“It’s nearly nine years ago that we moved into our eco house in Cambridge (Hedge House) designed by Mole Architects. Meredith was a delight to work with, always ready to listen to us (and gently educate us!) as clients. Their involvement as architects for K1 was a significant factor in us joining the project and we are delighted with the quality of design and build that have been achieved. The team of Neil and Jonny from TOWN, and Meredith and others from Mole Architects, were very willing to engage with us during the design process and the result is outstanding.”