Local group, Older Women in Cohousing (WINC), has received national attention through a recent article published by the ABC.

WINC was established with the aim to develop and build a cohousing community for older women in Daylesford. The development they envisage would have small individual units for single occupants or couples and shared community resources to reduce costs to individual owners, minimize its carbon footprint and facilitate social interaction. Shared resources would include a common house, guest rooms for visitors, a workshop, art room and a laundry.

The community has been designed with universally accessible, north-facing, well insulated energy efficient homes and incorporates solar energy and storage.

The group consists of mainly lesbian women who face particular challenges as they age. Many do not have children or family to support them partly because they lived in same-sex relationships but also because some were ostracised by their families. As women, many had jobs which were not as well paid as their male counterparts and they did not accumulate the same superannuation.

But they are also motivated to create a sense of community and welcome all women over 50. Pandemic lockdowns affected the mental health of many Victorians and were a reminder of the importance of connectedness and proximity to friends, for mental well-being.

WINC was inspired by Charles Durrett’s writing and Urban Coup, a cohousing development in Melbourne. “It just makes sense to lower the cost of housing with a smaller footprint, lower energy costs and a chance to live in a community of like-minded people,” said Mary-Faeth Chenery, secretary of WINC.

WINC also wants to assist women who are facing financial hardship through a shared equity model. Those with greater financial resources are able to invest in a portion of the homes of other women who may not be able to afford a unit on their own. “Middle women”, with too many resources to be eligible for public housing could therefore buy into the development. A number of units would also be available for people on the social housing register.

Although the group has considered a number of development sites in and around Daylesford, they have yet to purchase property for the development. They had discussions with Hygge Property, the developers of Middleton Field, but escalating property values pushed the cost beyond their means.

They are looking for a property of about 7,000 square metres, ideally within about 1.3km of the town centre. Their planned development would house up to 32 people. WINC has asked local real estate agents to be on the lookout for suitable sites.

WINC president, Anneke Deutsch, said the group may need to look beyond Daylesford. “Because we’ve been unable to secure land here, we’ve started looking further afield, around Castlemaine,” she said. “We’ve invested tens of thousands in planning and designing a development, so we’re ready to start. We just need a development site that suits our requirements.”