Definition of ‘agency’ n. (sociology) – the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.
Agency Cohousing and Community is a community of people who mostly live around Balmain in Sydney’s inner west who want to create a place where they can live actively and independently ‘together’, as they grow old.
We’re calling it Agency Cohousing and Community because we want to retain agency as we grow older. We don’t want to stop contributing, to fade out of life, lose control over our choices and decisions, lose relevance to our community. We are – and we want to remain – engaged, active participants in our community. We want to have ongoing agency and we know that the design and location of our homes and our communities play a big role in enabling – or disabling – agency for older people.
Agency Cohousing and Community has two branches. Agency Cohousing is one of our visions and the other is the Agency Hub.
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The cohousing concept
Central to Agency Cohousing and Community is the concept of cohousing – where a group of people choose to live ‘together but separately’ in their own houses, villas, townhouses or apartments (etc), in close proximity to each other and, importantly, with an intention and commitment to sharing some facilities in common.
In cohousing, just what people commit to sharing will vary from group to group, depending on the interests of those involved, but it might include sharing gardens and a chicken house or beehive, a communal living area and kitchen, playground equipment, art studio space, sporting facilities or a workshop. It might include a shared laundry or shared vehicles. It will always include regular shared meals.
Agency Cohousing and Community is clearly and deliberately a cohousing project. Click on this link to find out more about the cohousing idea.
What’s different about this cohousing project?
The cohousing concept works for people of all ages and stages. For example, it can
particularly suit families with young children, where shared meals, play facilities and communally organised activities can make a huge difference to the quality of life for parents and children alike.
However, Agency Cohousing and Community’s vision is a particular type of cohousing that is specifically, though not exclusively, designed to support and enable a healthy active life for us as we get older and move into our sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties.
Who are we?
We are a group of people who have mostly lived in and around the postcodes of 2041, 2040, 2039, 2038 and 2037 – part of the area of Sydney known as the ‘inner west’. Some of us are still in our 40s, most of us are in our 50s and 60s and a few of us are a bit older than that. Between us we have loads of history, mostly adult children and many shared life experiences. We have a huge diversity of skills and interests but we have a common sensibility about the importance of people, communities, networks and environmental sustainability.
Each of us understands that, to have the best chance of ageing well, we need to be in well designed and well located housing, close to shops and services and other amenities and supported by our friends and networks. We already enjoy a great sense of community and, through developing this project together, we hope to continue and strengthen that.
What does it look like?
We’re not sure exactly what it looks like yet but we are urban dwellers and we want to stay in our local area. We are looking at a range of options that include building something brand new if we can find the right piece of land, to renovating or converting an existing building. Because land is at a premium in our neighbourhood, we are probably looking at a medium density apartment approach.
Whatever we choose, it needs to incorporate universal design principles, be ‘age-friendly’, be integrated with the rest of our community and be as environmentally sustainable as possible.
We know there will be planning and development challenges along the way. Just because something seems like a no-brainer sensible idea, new concepts can be scary and confronting. Especially to regulators. We know we will have to be vocal advocates for the changes we would like to see happen to enable people of all ages to live with choice and agency in their lives. And we’re up for that!
The Agency Hub is the second arm of Agency Cohousing and Community. We believe it will resonate strongly with Agency supporters, as it does with many others. The Agency Hub is about creating a practical, supportive network of people based around the Balmain area of the inner west, who want to live safely and well at home – in as best health as possible, socially connected and assisted as needed – as they grow older.
What is the background to the Agency Hub?
The Agency Hub idea is based on the well-known Beacon Hill Village in Boston, Massachusetts in the US. It began in 1999 with group of locals working together to build community links to help people age well with dignity, living as full a life as possible.
In the words of the Beacon Hill Villagers: We are a community of people in central Boston who prosper from directing our lives and creating our own future. We are trendsetters for a new generation of people over 50 and invite you to join us in this exciting venture.
All over the US and in other countries, people did join them in their own Village ventures and in 2010 the thriving grass roots movement formally established itself as the Village to Village Network. In Australia there is only one, the Waverton Hub which was started in 2012.
2018 was our year to pilot some Agency Hub activities. We walked from Manly to the Spit walk, rode bikes, walked our dogs, played Mahjong and had some really great picnics.
The Agency Hub hopes to expand the activities and organise them through “Meetup” in 2019.
We are building connections to help decrease isolation and improve our “social determinates of health”.
The Agency Hub is nurturing our zest for life and helping us stay and thrive in the place we love.