Cohousing can be beneficial for seniors. A successful pilot programme implemented in Rybnik proves that.
Cohousing refers to the practice of unrelated individuals living together in a communal setting. Since 2021, Rybnik has been running a pilot cohousing project under the city's supervision. The city renovated a townhouse and made it available for this purpose. Three seniors who previously faced difficult housing situations have moved into one of the shared flats.
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Pilot cohousing project in Rybnik
In early January, a local news portal nowiny.pl described a pilot cohousing project that involved three ladies: Felicja Berger, Felicja Wolny and Maria Korga. Felicja Wolny felt very lonely during the pandemic and decided to move despite volunteers bringing her groceries and social workers looking after her. Felicia worked in education for 40 years.
Felicja Berger also had a long career, having worked as a crane operator at Rybnickie Zakłady Naprawcze. The third roommate is Maria Korga, who moved into the flat a few months after they moved in. She worked in commerce.
Although Mrs Berger had a house before she moved in, it needed a complete overhaul, including the leaking roof. The house was difficult to heat, and Mrs Felicia did not always have the money to buy coal for firewood and sometimes had to collect brushwood.
It was freezing in Mrs Korga's previous house, and she couldn't move much due to her weak knees. Katarzyna Torfińska, who works at the Social Welfare Centre, suggested that she move to a flat where other women already lived. Mrs Korga only wanted to know if the new place would be warm. Eventually, she moved into the flat on Bolesław Chrobry Street, which is heated by gas.
In an interview with nowiny.pl, she listed its advantages: "The flat is renovated and fully furnished. We have a microwave and a dishwasher. During the summer, we can sit on the terrace. Moreover, we live near the city centre, so everything is within reach." The seniors pay much less to live in the flat than they did to maintain their previous homes.
Cultural resistance to communal living
One space in the flat is still vacant despite efforts to fill it. It seems that some people, even under challenging circumstances, prefer not to share a room with a flatmate. The Social Welfare Centre will take into account the feedback received during the pilot program and provide single rooms for tenants of future flats, as well as space for walkers and pushchairs.
Resistance to communal living is not unique to Polish seniors. Sociologist Dr Janina Petelczyc, who described the pilot project from Rybnik on X, pointed to research highlighting similar issues in Australia. The research paper she cited was titled "Great Idea, but not for Me."
The study's authors found that resistance towards cohousing in Poland was due to negative associations and a cultural unfamiliarity with shared housing solutions. Despite this, Dr Petelczyc suggested that it is worth changing our mindset towards cohousing, not only because of the challenging financial situation of seniors but also to reap other benefits.
Can shared living spaces be a solution to loneliness?
Living together with others can have a positive impact on both our mental and physical health. As humans, we are social creatures, and the quality of our relationships with others plays a vital role in our overall well-being. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised concerns over the loneliness epidemic, which can lead to a decline in mood and even have direct effects on our physical health.
Katarzyna Torfińska from the Social Welfare Center has mentioned that there are many senior citizens in the city who are left alone at home after their husbands have passed away. They cannot upgrade their heating sources, pay for heating costs, or even have the strength to do so. It is essential to understand that such situations are common in Rybnik and throughout Poland. Rybnik is one of the first cities in Poland to pioneer cohousing.