“THE trailblazers are coming to Colchester,” Lesley Scordellis joked after saying Cannock Mill is the first mixed co-housing scheme to be established at least this side of the country.

Some time before the end of the year, Lesley will move from Guildford and rent in Colchester before moving into a property at Cannock Mill with other residents nearing, or at retirement age.

Three years ago when she discovered Cannock Mill Co-Housing Colchester, it was like a lightbulb went off.

She knew nothing about the town, was not fretting over her future as an older person, Lesley was just an adventurous 60-something who decided to reinvigorate her life.

She said: “I was just looking for something a bit different. I have a nice life here in Guildford, but I have done this life for ten years now.

“I couldn’t envisage living the rest of my life in the same way.

“I’d never heard of co-housing, but I thought it was perfect - a complete change of life and a more interactive way of life.

“One which offered me more opportunities to do more things.”

At the site in Old Heath Road, each person or couple has bought their self-contained house or flat, but the picturesque grounds and Grade II listed mill - with two guest bedrooms - are communal.

It means residents still control how social they are, but the ethos of this co-housing scheme is to live minimally, make as little impact on the environment while contributing to the community.

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Lesley anticipates they will cook and eat together several times a week and a Library of Things is in the pipeline where miscellaneous items like sewing machines or household tools, can be borrowed.

“We won’t just share time, we’ll share things as well,” the mum-of-two said.

“What people can learn from this style of housing is you get out of life what you put in. If you contribute to a community, you get rewarded in spades.

“Although we’ll be living in our own space, there’s the opportunity to do things together which just gives people that sense of belonging missing from today’s life.

“It’s not a closet community like a commune, we’ll be leading normal lives in the community we live in.”

A topping-out ceremony last week hosted by Jerram Falkus Construction marked the project nearing completion as well as the homeowners breaking out in a surprise song of thanks.

The construction firm started this unique project, designed by Anne Thorne Architects, last summer, with a low-carbon footprint and low running costs but highly energy efficient homes built to Passivhaus standards, meaning they will need almost no energy to heat them.

There are only two three-bedroom houses left on the site for about £600,000 each.

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The 66-year-old said: “It’s a huge change for us all but we’re really looking forward to it.

“We’re working very hard to make this happen and everyone is getting quite excited now we can see the houses going up.

“Some of the group come from Colchester or the surrounding areas so not everyone is a newcomer like me, but those who are have grown to love the town more and more.”

Despite the great leap of faith being undertaken, Lesley, a retired academic proofreader, is reluctant to call herself brave, she prefers the phrase “exciting”.

Once here, her plan is to sing in a choir as she does now, join evening classes, book groups and the gym.

It was a bit more difficult for her to describe the type of person who jumps into such unfamiliar territory as co-housing, but eventually she found the words.

She said: “The sort of person who thinks sharing and caring is really important. I’ve noticed a change in myself after I started to go to the meetings in Colchester.

“I used to say ‘I’ and now I say ‘we’ all the time.

“You’ve got to want to be part of a group and join in things and help make things happen.

“And you’ve got to be someone who welcomes change. We’re turning our lives completely upside down to do this but we think the benefits will be fantastic and the opportunity is there to make it fantastic.”

To make enquiries, email membership@cannockmillcohousingcolchester.co.uk.

READ MORE: CO-HOUSING PROJECT PLAN FOR LISTED BUILDING