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The beginner’s guide to co-housing

Just beyond the city centre of Ghent, Den Draad is home to a unique co-housing community. Those who come to live in this green, sustainable district of Gentbrugge don’t keep themselves behind their garden walls. Here, ‘coming home’ means mixing with the neighbours.

For city people with a villager’s heart

Den Draad offers the best of both worlds. In a short bicycle ride you are in Ghent city centre; or cycle along the Oosterschelde to find yourself in the middle of nature. “Why choose, when you can have the best of both worlds? Here we can enjoy a vibrant city life, and also experience life around a traditional village green.” These are not minor considerations for Thomas Vervisch and his wife Els Yperman: “It wasn’t about moving to a bigger home; it was about community and the surroundings. All the children around here play out together. It’s something almost inconceivable in a place so close to the city. I feel at home here, and I see myself growing old here.”

“We enjoy all the benefits of co-housing without the disadvantages. Our privacy is respected and yet we still belong to a community. Everything happens naturally and organically.”

Thomas Vervisch

Look beyond your own garden walls

“Of course, you don’t know for sure how it will work out. We’ve been wanting to get involved in a co-housing project for some time now. Den Draad was a bit of gamble, but whilst we haven’t been living here long, everything is working out fine. All the people who live here share the same standards and principles – and a lawnmower. That’s a chore we all share”, explains neighbour Peter Desmet. Residents of Den Draad often join forces to do work in the garden, or recycle materials for the community benefit, such as providing a bench or organising frequent residents parties.

“But we extend the sense of community even further. We don’t want to become an island. The aim is to get everyone in the district involved. 60% of the site will shortly become a park, which anyone is welcome to use”, continues Els. The park contains a shared allotment and three wonderful, grunting piglets who already feel at home here. “These piglets are a terrific local initiative to save waste, by feeding them our left-over food. At the same time, they make us more aware of where our meat comes from”, explains Thomas. “We enjoy all the benefits of co-housing without the disadvantages. Our privacy is respected and yet we still belong to a community. Everything happens naturally and organically.”

Co-Housing for beginners

Ecological legacy is the first consideration

However, it is more than just a sense of community that makes Den Draad such a success. The important thing for everyone searching for a new home here was sustainability. “This was an essential feature for us. It was a concept I grew up with and that I really wanted to incorporate into my daily life”, says Peter. Without compromising on comfort, each house is as compact and practical as possible, so that no space is wasted. For Thomas, living more compactly is a fun challenge. “In the past we had an attic full of clutter. But these days we are much more conscious of what we bring into the home. I recognise how we are naturally drawn in this direction, with the result that the pile of waste we produce is growing smaller.” His wife Els agrees. “You automatically consume less. Furthermore, the smaller the space that our house takes up, the more space there is outdoors. That’s fine by us.”

Want to know more about co-housing?

The residents of Den Draad have a few top tips to share:

  • Make sure not to buy a finished house. Instead, consult with the project developers so that you have some say in how the rooms are divided up.
  • You have to let a community spirit grow organically. Establish good contact with your neighbours. A shared Facebook group is an ideal tool for this; it means that we regularly keep in touch with each other on the small, day-to-day issues. And most of all, take time to socialise together over a beer.
  • Choose a project that matches your vision and philosophy about home life. By doing so, you increase the chances that you end up living alongside people who think and feel like you.


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Xavi 4 years ago

Thanks! Overall, interesting, and very curious this idea with the pigglets : )