Alternative models of housing with care and support


Co-housing communities are created and run by their residents. Residents come together to manage their community, share activities, and regularly eat together. Although co-housing has a strong focus on living communally, with shared spaces a defining characteristic, it is different from a commune as residents have their own self-contained homes and private spaces with residents deciding when and how they want to interact. Co-housing communities can also be known as community-led housing (CLH).

Starting in the UK at the end of the 1990s, the co-housing movement has gradually developed and there are now 19 built co-housing communities with a further 60+ co-housing groups developing projects.

Co-housing communities can be inter-generational, welcoming anyone of any age and any family structure. They can also be designed specifically to cater for communities of common interest, for example for women or LGBTQ+ groups. Interest in older people’s co-housing is growing as people increasingly see it as a way of living which can help to maintain independence and give a sense of purpose while also alleviating social isolation and loneliness. For some people, co-housing could be an alternative to housing with support.

Communities in the UK range from new, purpose-built developments with a strong focus on eco standards, to conversions of existing dwellings or buildings. They are in urban, rural and semi-rural locations, with some having very large areas of land and others having very little. Most of the initial co-housing projects were self-funded by the residents as there was no public funding available for co-housing. Increasingly, communities are working in partnership with other agencies to co-create their co-housing using a range of legal and financial structures to enable them to offer different tenure types including rental and mutual homeownership options. A Toolkit has been developed to help local authorities navigate issues related to co-housing schemes.

The common co-housing characteristics:

  • Co-housing is co-designed with intentional communities. The initial group contribute significantly to the design of the co-housing community and take an active role in creating the community.
  • Co-housing is a balance between privacy and community.
  • The size and scale of developments is appropriate, usually between 10 and 40 households to make interactions as easy as possible.
  • Residents are the decision-makers and decisions are often based on consensus, with all adult residents being encouraged to take part in decision-making. Residents manage their own community, looking after the maintenance and development of it, running the finances, tending the gardens and organising shared activities.
  • Co-housing communities are inclusive and part of the wider community and often host wider community activities in the shared space and common house.


Almshouses are self-contained, low-cost properties, mostly for older people who have a low income. Almshouses are managed and run by independent local almshouse charities which tend to be made up of volunteers. An almshouse charity is usually a charity for the relief of financial hardship by the provision of housing and associated services or benefits. They often cater for particular categories of people which the almshouse charity has a particular focus on, for example people who have worked for a certain trade or have been living in the area for a number of years. Today there are almshouses for retired fishermen, miners, retail workers and a host of other groups in addition to older people. Some almshouse charities have no age restrictions and are able to accommodate families, people with a disability and key workers. There are generally a small number of houses grouped together. Residents pay rent, usually called a maintenance contribution which is similar to rent but different in law, and less than a commercial rate.

The history of almshouses stretches back to medieval times when religious orders cared for the poor. The oldest almshouse foundation still in existence is thought to be the Hospital of St Oswald in Worcester founded circa 990. Today there are 30,000+ alms dwellings throughout the UK providing homes for approximately 36,000 people. The majority of almshouse residents are of retirement age, of limited financial means and living within the vicinity of an almshouse charity or have a family connection to the area in which the charity is located. Almshouses do not always have the word ‘almshouse’ in their name, they may be referred to by another title, such as ‘College’, ‘Hospital’ or ‘Homes’.

Some almshouse charities employ a warden or scheme manager to provide support to the residents and assist in the management of the charity and a small number of larger almshouse charities offer housing with care. However, generally anyone wishing to apply for accommodation at an almshouse charity needs to be able to live independently.


Homeshare matches someone who needs some help to live independently in their own home (householder) with someone who has a housing need (homesharer). In return for low-cost accommodation the homesharer provides a minimum of 10 hours of support per week to the householder. The matching is done by a homeshare scheme to whom a monthly fee is paid. A homeshare coordinator will select a householder and a potential homesharer who will then interview each other to try and ensure a good match. Homesharing can benefit and enrich the lives of both the householder and the homesharer. It is not usually suitable for the provision of personal care but can reduce the need and expense of traditional care services and can extend independent living at home.

The average homeshare match length is nine months and the longest current match is five years. There are more than 20 different homeshare schemes across the UK and Republic of Ireland, all of which are members of Homeshare UK.

Householders are often older people, or people who need support to continue to live in their own home. They will have some support needs or may have become isolated or anxious about living alone. The idea is that with reassurance and companionship, householders will continue to live full, happy and healthy lives. Householders will also be able to pass on their skills and experience to enrich the lives of those that share with them.

Homesharers are often younger people, students, or key public service workers who cannot afford housing where they work. They give time and support the needs of the householder in exchange for a place to live at a reduced cost. They can also benefit from developing a relationship with the householder, sharing interests and hobbies. The type of support offered over the 10-hour minimum is agreed between the householder and homesharer and may include activities like: cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry, reading, administration, walking the dog and offering companionship.

The homesharer does not pay rent directly to the householder. Instead both parties pay a fee to the Homeshare scheme to cover the costs incurred in finding and supporting good matches. The homesharer may also pay a contribution to household bills. Fees paid to Homeshare schemes vary to reflect local economies. On average a homesharer will pay £160 per month and a householder will pay £140 per month to the Homeshare scheme which represents a significant saving on accommodation and similar domestic help.

Homeshare schemes are not regulated by an independent body. Schemes that join the Homeshare International Network (HIN) have to sign up to a Charter of good practice but HIN has no authority to inspect schemes for compliance.

Case study

Promising practice examples

  • Co-housing for Ageing Well Open

    Model of housing or service: alternative model (co-housing/ intergenerational housing)

    Principles of excellence: adopting innovation

    Cohousing for Ageing Well (CHAW), based in Adelaide, is a funded collaborative design research project undertaken for and with Office for Ageing Well (SA Health Department), the South Australian State Planning Commission, the SA Department for Infrastructure and four inner-Adelaide Councils.

    The project investigates how older houses in Adelaide might be altered and extended to create low-scale and low-intensity infill housing options within the existing grounds. The additional dwellings, whether created out of the existing houses, as extensions to them, or as detached backyard homes are self-contained and designed to the Gold or Platinum levels of the Livable Housing Australia guidelines for mobility and livability.

    A hypothetical scenario is the story of Ron. Ron has been a resident in Malvern for 46 years. His wife passed away last year, and although Ron doesn’t want to move, he finds it difficult to keep up with the maintenance of the large house and garden. Ron would like to share his property by building a small unit in the rear of his garden, which he could rent to someone. This person could assist Ron with household duties and yard maintenance, and they may also share a meal regularly or work together on a vegetable patch. This scenario provides opportunity for both Ron and his new tenant, who may benefit from lower rent and the opportunity to become part of the community.

    In 2021 the project was shortlisted in the 5th Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation.

  • ADS Independent Living Solutions Open

    Model of housing or service: alternative model

    Principles of excellence: adopting innovation

    ADS, a social enterprise based in England, specialises in developing homes for people with learning disabilities, autism and with mental health, behavioural and physical challenges. The homes can be standalone units or form larger, modular developments. The homes are constructed offsite and then assembled onsite. They can be removed and relocated or refitted and redeployed.

    ADS works with the home user, their family, care providers and commissioning team as appropriate, to listen to preferences and assess needs so that finishes, fixtures, fittings and technology in each home can be specific to the person who will live there.

    The homes have been named Smile Homes® because they are:

    • Sustainable – low carbon homes with PVs, green roof and ability to be removed and remanufactured as part of the circular economy
    • Modular – volumetric units fully completed in the factory to order, as single homes, clusters and apartments
    • Intelligent – with person-centred technology
    • Lifetime – designed with flexibility to meet changing needs with the ability to redeploy homes where they are needed
    • Efficient – optimising costs as part of an ethical and sustainable approach to affordability.
  • Beekmos Open

    Model of housing or service: alternative model (co-housing/ intergenerational housing)

    Principles of excellence: adopting innovation; community connectedness; person centred and outcome focused;

    Constructed in 2012, Beekmos Houten, Netherlands, brings together young mothers and girls, who cannot live with their families, with senior residents in an assisted living environment. The project was entirely designed and coordinated between non-profit organisations, including Stichting Timon, a non-profit organisation that provides guidance to young people, and Habion, a housing foundation focused on providing housing for seniors. The low-rise apartment building comprises 13 units for young mothers/girls and four units for senior residents.

    The elderly residents have been selected because they have the time and necessary life experience to assist the young women in a meaningful way. They serve as ‘coaches’ and their role is to live like ‘good neighbours’, being available to assist the young people in their daily needs, including babysitting, providing relational support and helping them to build social networks. The project also allows for the sharing of certain activities, such as dining among neighbours on a weekly basis, or organising activities and excursions where the young women and seniors become better acquainted and improve their social skills. The project not only addresses the need for providing housing for young at-risk population but seeks to create a sense of community beyond the space of the physical home and reduce loneliness and isolation in the elderly residents.

    The design and location of the building are important. The building itself is located in the city centre, close to different services including schools, day-care centres, health services and social services. This makes it easier for both the seniors and the younger women to remain connected with their local community. The seniors live on the ground floor while the upper apartments are reserved for the young women. The rooftop terrace, collective meeting spaces and consulting rooms create spaces that encourage meeting and intermingling.

    Further information

  • Marmalade Lane Open

    Model of housing or service: alternative model (co-housing/ intergenerational housing)

    Principles of excellence: adopting innovation; community connectedness; co-production and shared decision making

    Marmalade Lane in Cambridge, is a multi-generational, co-housing development comprising 21 houses and 21 apartments in seven different dwelling types which had its first residents in 2018. The development is the product of an innovative design process in which many residents were involved in shared decision-making from the outset. Residents each have their own private home but jointly manage their living environment and share spaces and facilities which are designed to encourage a sense of community and a more social way of life. Cambridge Council provided seed funding for the development of the scheme, later supplemented by a grant from the Homes and Communities Agency.

    The development is laid out in terraces, creating streets to the front with gardens behind. Car parking is kept to the periphery, conserving the outside space for people’s enjoyment. Homes are contemporary versions of the townhouses and low-rise apartments traditional to Cambridge. They are made using sustainable raw materials, passive energy design principles and the Trivselhus Climate Shield® building system and have porches, balconies and private gardens.

    The development includes three designated shared spaces. Firstly, a large garden is available for relaxation, play and growing food. Secondly the Common House which provides a place for residents to socialise, host guests and eat together. It includes a large kitchen, lounge with wood-burning stove, laundry facilities, children’s playroom, shop, a secluded room for adults only, and flexible spaces for meetings and wellbeing classes. It also includes guest bedrooms, bookable by residents. There is a small gym, and a workshop which provides a place for hobbies. Thirdly the Lane, a child-friendly, car-free 'street' through the development which is a shared space.  

    Residents come from all ages and walks of life and include families with young children, retired couples and young professionals. There are many nationalities in the community and residents include both longstanding Cambridge residents and those who have moved from elsewhere to join the community.

    Marmalade Lane has won numerous awards including more recently Civic Trust Award for Sustainability 2021 and RICS Social Impact Awards, Project of the year 2020

  • Municipal Project for Intergenerational Housing and Community Services Open

    Model of housing or service: alternative model (co-housing/intergenerational housing)

    Principles of excellence: adopting innovation; person centred and outcome focused

    The Municipal Project for Intergenerational Housing and Community Services  provides 244 affordable, intergenerational housing units in central urban areas and was initiated in 2003 by the Municipal Housing Board of Alicante (PMV). The main aim of the project was to resolve the problems faced by many low-income older adults living in inadequate housing and experiencing isolation and loneliness through the provision of affordable housing that allows them to live independently. Additionally, the project aims to provide housing for low-income young people, contribute towards the revitalisation of the surrounding urban areas and provide a range of services to the community. The apartments have been built to high environmental standards, and can be single or double occupancy. In addition, there are communal services including a library and computer centre, areas for social events and workshops, solarium, roof garden, laundry and local health and recreational services for residents. They are rented as social dwellings, at affordable rents.

    Residents include low-income older persons over the age of 65 (78 per cent of residents) and low-income young people under the age of 35 (22 per cent of residents). In the selection process, priority is given to those more advanced in age and with the greatest socio-economic disadvantage. Young people are selected based on income as well as motivation, empathy and suitability to work in the social programmes, with preference given to those with qualifications and/or experience in community or social work.

    As well as providing accessible housing, the project also works to reduce isolation and create a supportive, family-like environment and sense of belonging among residents. Based on a ‘good neighbour agreement’, each young person oversees taking care of four older people in the building. This can improve outcomes for older residents, enabling them to maintain their independence and stay in their own homes for longer as they age.

    Many benefits of the project have been identified. Residents have widely expressed how the project has increased their wellbeing, allowing them to be independent yet not alone, live in a decent home with a family-like environment and have a wide range of activities within reach. Family members of residents are reassured that their relative can live independently in a safe environment. In addition to accessing high-quality housing at affordable rental rates, young people report gaining knowledge and establishing real friendships with the older persons they assist. There has also been a positive impact on the neighbourhood, contributing to the renewal of the local area and providing municipal services to residents.

  • New Ground Co-Housing - Older Women's Co-Housing Open

    Model of housing or service: alternative model (co-housing)

    Principles of excellence: adopting innovation; person centred and outcome focused; co-production and shared decision making

    New Ground Co-housing, the UK’s first senior co-housing community, is located in North London and opened in 2016. The development comprises 25 self-contained flats with shared communal facilities and gardens, managed on co-housing principles. It consists of 11 one-bed, 11 two-bed and three three-bedroom flats plus a common room, guest room, laundry facilities, and attractive gardens. Seventeen flats are owned by their occupants on 250-year leases; eight are for social renters on assured tenancies and are managed by Older Women’s Co-housing (OWCH) and Housing for Women.

    The residents are a group of 26 women who come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and range in age from early 50s to late 80s. They share a determination to stay as self-dependent and active as they can as they get older. They see co-housing as a way of living as cooperative, friendly neighbours. The community is actively managed by the residents. Everyone has opportunities to share in the life of the group and contribute in whatever way she can.

    Occupants subscribe to a set of defined values and aims; they enjoy their own accommodation, personal space, and privacy, but in addition have communal areas in which to meet and share joint activities. The aim is to promote neighbourliness, combat isolation and offer mutual support. Residents are also encouraged to become involved with the local community. The OWCH scheme is not sheltered housing, nor a gated retirement community cut off from the outside world.

    The development is managed by OWCH (Barnet) Ltd which is a fully mutual company, with an elected management committee, and its decisions are made by the resident OWCH group via a monthly meeting. One of several policies agreed by OWCH concerns mutual support. The group undertakes ‘to look out for rather than look after each other’. Where an individual has care needs, she is expected to have arrangements in place to meet them. Everyone is expected to contribute as far as she can and the OWCH community cares for ‘New Ground’ and the group’s life together through a series of small work teams, such as for cleaning, gardening, finance, membership, communications and so on. There is a communal meal each week.

    The residents are proactive in advocating for more co-housing options and sharing their journey in building New Ground.