(L-R Gill, Alison, Pam)
The following is a part of a conversation had on a chilly autumn night, over chicken soup, red wine and beer, with three very vibrant women. These three friends had been participants in our recent Workshop Series, and had bought a property with the intention of living there together. The property is an existing three bedroom house on a 761m2 block, to which they hope to add another two self contained units in the rear garden. Alison is to live in the front house, with Pam and Gill in the rear units. They will each have a private garden, as well as shared outdoor areas, including the front garden (a vegetable garden) which is also a pleasant place to sit and talk to the neighbours as they walk past. They also intend to have a shared laundry and storage area.
What follows are some of their motives, ambitions and reflections on this new venture they are engaging in together.
Meriam: How did this all begin for you?
Pam: I have always fancied the idea of community living, ever since I lived in a kibbutz in 1980-81. Recently I lived in England for a period of 10 years, and when I came back to Perth for a visit, about a year and half ago, I visited Alison. Alison lives opposite Fremantle Village (a caravan park) and I asked if she would mind if we went and checked it out. But for me, I didn’t pick up a vibe - there was no sense of community there. When we got back to Alison’s she asked me why I had wanted to go and see it, and I told her that I liked the idea of community living, as a plan for my retirement. And then just quite randomly, I asked her: “Can you see yourself living here for the rest of your life?” And I don’t think she’d actually thought about it before, but she answered: “Actually - no – I can’t!”
Alison: The reason I couldn’t, is because even though I have been very happy there – I have been there for five years – I had just got back from a year going around Australia, and I’d been out in the bush where it was really quiet, and I came back to some really noisy rental neighbours behind me. And it was like my whole place was invaded. And I think because of that impact on me, that’s when I decided, no, I don’t think I can see myself here.
Pam: So, when she said no, I said, as a purely hypothetical question: “What do you see yourself doing?” And there was another pause, and she said: “Actually, I like your idea!” And before we knew it, we were running with this idea of community living. Initially, it was just the two of us. I went back to England, with the idea that we might do this, and then Alison met Gill in a carpark ... as you do!
Gill: We were comparing campervans at the time -so there was a reason for meeting in the carpark!
Alison: Yes, I saw her campervan in a carpark and was intrigued by her gas tank, and she happened to catch me examining it, and that’s how we got to talking. But I think prior to this Pam you had thought to make this project a little bit bigger than the two of us...
Pam: I was a little bit nervous, and I remember saying to Alison when I was back in England, I got cold feet a little bit, and I thought what if we were to fall out? And Alison said “I don’t think we will ever fall out!” And I thought, well, we have to be realistic, I don’t want to be not talking to her when she’s my only neighbour. So I thought it would be nicer if we could have a bigger community. So when Gill came along, and literally ticked all the boxes, our project grew to three.
Gill: But I think for me, I came to the idea of community from the exact opposite position to you, because I am a product of the 70’s in London, and that commune environment. I guess I had this stigma, that that is what community means – and I knew it wasn’t true, but it was one of those notions that was just hanging around. And then I moved down south, and there are a few communities there that are going great, but they also have massive fights at times, and to me, I felt I didn’t want anything to do with any of that; community is a great idea, the whole idea is fantastic, but you introduce people, and then you get issues. And that was as far as I went with it. But for me, I always saw the value of community, and it was only when these two came along, and we clicked that I thought: ‘Ah, of course it can work!” It can work if you have the right people, if you’re on the same page, if you’ve got the same vision, and if you all want to overcome any obstacle that arises.
Meriam: I’m interested to hear you speak of having the same vision – what is that for you three?
Gill: Well, it seems pretty simple really: we don’t seem to be ego driven or materialistic, we just seem to be of the opinion that we are getting older, it’s nice to support each other, it’s great to have that companionship, it’s good to share resources, and it’s great to live in a nice area which you might not afford on your own. And I think it is really important to have the right people and I just feel so clearly that we can talk through whatever might come up. I think being a party of three is really useful, in that if two people aren’t getting on, then that third person can come in and be a bit of a mediator.
Pam: And I think what’s making it work is that we are all committed – this is what we want. So we are going to make it work.
Gill: I don’t really have a fear that we will fallout; I’m a bit of a realist, and I’m sure there’s going to be times when it’s not going to be as pleasant as it usually is, but I don’t have a fear that we are not going to be able to work it out.
Meriam: Can I ask why that isn’t a fear for you guys in this instance?
Pam: For me it feels like a bit of a marriage in a way; in that even in a good marriage, there’s going to be hiccups and if you want that relationship to last, you work through them. If we want our friendship to last, and our community to last, we will work through any issue.
Gill: And we’ve all said that exact thing. We’ve all acknowledged that we feel that we are good enough communicators, and that our egos aren’t that big. And the three of us all want to get something resolved and to move on rather than get stuck in conflict and blaming each other.
Alison: I think there will be times when we’ll want our own space, and to have a bit of time out and I think it’s healthy to do that.
Pam: I think my biggest fear is that this is a big commitment - this could be for the rest of my life and that scares me a little. But when I’ve ever had any feelings of doubt, and I think this applies to all of us, I’ve focused on the end result. The end result is something that I do want and I can visualise it, and it feels comfortable. This is sort of like my dream come true – and I think Gill and Alison feel likewise – for enjoying my retirement: doing the things I love, in a place that I love, being supported and in good company.