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The benefits of communal living

Written By Alice Webster

Over the past year or so, I’ve experienced a profound change in the way that I live. As I’m sure many Perspective readers have also undergone. Having only ever lived within a small family unit, I then transitioned, last September, to living with 9 other teenagers who I’d never met before. People from all backgrounds, interests, and ways of living. A scary concept, to say the least. However, the subsequent effect upon my state of mind and therefore quality of life has been pretty incredible. This is something that I have only really come to reflect on recently; having moved back home for my summer holidays. Returning to my family home allowed me the space and distance to appreciate just how beneficial the past year of cohabitation has been for me.

Co-housing with multiple other people means that you get to know them on a level of intimacy that you never otherwise would. It means allowing yourself to be seen in your most vulnerable moments and learning to give and receive care within a community dynamic. It ensures that you are surrounded by energy and life during every minute of the day. And living in this way has undoubtedly made me a happier person.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate that cohabitation is not perfect. Not everyone has had the rosy experience that I’ve been so lucky to have. However, after having discussed my view on the subject with many others over the past few months, it appears I am very much not alone in my feelings.

Which got me curious as to just how universal this experience is. Whether co-habitation could really elevate people’s quality of life on a larger scale.

Having delved a little deeper into the subject matter, I have discovered that, not only do co-housing models tend to universally benefit the mental health of those who participate but could also provide solutions to the current sociological problems that the UK is facing.

Co-housing, or cohabitation as concepts are essentially systems of living which grant individuals a private personal space, but also provide shared communal areas and facilities. This can mean anything from intergenerational households to spaces specifically designed to house friends, or neighbours communally. Much like students do when attending university. The latter form of cohabitation was promoted in the 60s and 70s in Denmark and was subsequently adopted across Europe and America in the following decades, constituting a reasonably widespread and yet relatively unknown way of life.

And investigative research into the effects of such habitation reveal the benefits that it can have, both mentally and physically. Whilst, admittedly, such data is difficult to analyse given its qualitative nature, the general consensus is that co-housing is considerably beneficial to all.

Research demonstrates that where communal spaces are shared by neighbours, there is a reduction in social isolation, increase in a sense of security and community, and overall improved quality of life. An American study carried out by in 2000 found that 100% of those living communally would “feel comfortable asking neighbours to help with tasks or errands if they were ill”. This drops to 40% of people living in conventional households. People living communally therefore experience a sense of community; they benefit from a healthy and comfortable support system which encourages the flourishing of interpersonal relationships.

They are far more likely to receive the care and company they require from those around them rather than having to seek external help.

In fact, a study carried out by Wardle in 2013 found that only 16% of those over 50 living in cohabitation, had to seek care from outside of their immediate surroundings, compared to 33% of those living in traditional households. The same study found that those living in cohousing also had a “lower incidence of chronic disease and unspecified impairments”.

This may all sound a bit farfetched. But really, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. Those living in the close confines of others, with shared spaces and a sense of community, experience the benefits of community care. You are more likely to reach out for help, and more likely to provide it when you can. Subsequently you receive attentive care from those that understand your mental or physical state fairly intimately. This mutually beneficial exchange of care not only incites social bonding and sense of companionship, but also provides physical and medical benefits.

I experience it myself all the time. Whether it be in shared housing at university, or in a hostel, I’ve cared and been cared for. As humans, we thrive in these situations. It’s in our nature to navigate social dynamics and provide and receive tenderness when needed.

Communal living just allows us to do so on a regular basis.

Moving beyond this, however, cohabitation can also provide a temporary answer to the pressing problems that we’re all facing in the UK at this moment in time. The NHS is overworked and underfunded. Waiting lists for healthcare are years long in some cases. And households are cracking under the pressure of inflation and increased living costs.

Cohabitation is a cheaper alternative to traditional housing and is accompanied with inbuilt communal care that is effective in reducing the need for external medical help.

There is a real chance that an uptake in communal living could relieve pressure on the NHS, at least to some extent.

It really could provide an immediate solution to ease anxieties that many will inevitably be facing in the coming years. And this comes in the form of alleviating mental health concerns too.

A 2009 actioned by Glass study revealed that amongst elderly populations who were co-inhabiting, 28% reported improvements in mental health, and only 3% reported a worsening. Such results are not just isolated to the more elderly demographic either. Intergenerational co inhabitants report similar improvements. I’ve felt them myself, as have my friends and fellow students.

Everybody has gaps in their lives; everybody has needs. Whether that be social, mental, or physical. And living communally helps to fill these gaps. Receiving help, and helping others is a mutually beneficial exchange, and one that brings back a genuine sense of community that seems to have otherwise disappeared from British culture. Cohabitation not only provides a solution to the pressures of the current day, but benefits cohabitants mentally and physically. It’s something that I think I will always do, and something that should be considered and promoted more widely in general. After all, sharing is caring!

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