From Aberdeen (the ‘oil capital’ of Britain) to Copenhagen (a city leading in European ‘liveability’).
Saying goodbye to Scotland – home to just over 5 million Scots (from a UK population of around 63 million), and proudly the home of Sir Walter Scott, Robbie Burns and Vegetarian Haggis. (Never did find out what the thirteen different ingredients were but it tasted pretty good).
Saying goodbye to the land of Shakespeare. The whole region around Findhorn is Macbeth country. Travelled by train for many hours through beautiful landscapes and past towns with lovely names like Kingussie and Inverludie. The railway station names were in both English and Gaelic; the Gaelic not only unpronounceable and also bearing no visible resemblance to its English equivalent.
Also leaving Scotland with a taste for Laphroig. Smoky, peaty whiski, at first sip it’s like medicine; then it’s tasty and makes other whiskeys taste too sweet and creamy. It’s such an acquired taste I think it might be safe from raiders in my cupboard at home. We’ll see!
Could spend a lot of time in Scotland.
And now to Copenhagen in the watery land of Vikings. These days it’s giant windmills in the sea that cause the eyes to widen. Flying over a whole wind farm of ocean sized mills – maybe 60 or 70 of them in the North Sea – indicating the coast of Denmark. Then the long bridge there over the water between Sweden and Denmark that disappears into a tunnel in the middle of nowhere. Astounding.
Must’ve been conspicuous standing outside the airport – Claus walked over purposely and shook hands with a big smile; always nice to be met after a tiring trip. He drove home pointing out landmarks on the way and providing some info on some of the things that are important to know about Denmark.
Albertslund Kommune is a suburb of Copenhagen about 15 km to the east on the island of Zealand. It is known for its efforts in raising awareness about climate change. Steen Christiansen, Mayor of the City of Albertslund, was recently quoted talking about the signing of the Mayors Adept, saying “The city of Albertslund has been working towards becoming CO2 neutral in 2025 for many years now (in relation to energy used for heating and electricity). In addition to being politically active in limiting greenhouse gas emissions (primarily CO2) we have, during recent years, undertaken the task of handling the negative implications of the greenhouse effect. We have primarily focused on the extreme weather conditions that we, together with other cities in the Copenhagen area, have experienced during the past years.”
Lange Eng Cohousing Community, near Albertslund town, has 54 households of 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom apartments totalling about 100 adults and 100 children and is supported by six elected representatives.
With so many young children in the community, the six o’clock evening meal six days a week is of paramount importance. It is organised on the intranet where you book ahead and can indicate whether you’re one of the many taking “take-aways” or are dining in. There is a ‘rotar’ (roster) for the cooking where every household has to do three shifts every five weeks with three or four people on a shift.
Nete and Claus have two young chidren, Gustav and Marie, and their household pays about 3,500 Krone per month which includes five or six meals a week for the four of them. (i.e. $664 Aud per month which would be on top of any mortgage repayments.)
The cooking is such a fundamental part of the community that they have been thinking of getting a chef in to help them streamline the operation. The kitchen is well equipped with big stainless steel benches, two big steaming/baking ovens, a commercial sized mixer and pressure cooker.
Claus recommended the first ‘port of call’ be to the Common House to get a late dinner while Nete was putting the children to bed at home. The meal always starts at 6.00 sharp when the ‘take-aways’ are dispensed first until 6.10 and then the community choosing to eat in can get their meals. Many people work from home and so appreciate the option for ‘home cooked’ and affordable take-away dinners. Generally meat-based with a vegetarian alternative but the vegetarian meals can be lacking in imagination. Nete has been thinking about how to improve that situation so I left her a copy of my book to help enable a conversation from a different, perhaps more intriguing angle. The after dinner clean up is done by the cooking team. They have worked out that having the cooking team clean up helps them keep the size of the clean-up to a minimum. The clean up is made easier by having chairs which hook onto the tables facilitating sweeping underneath.
An after-dinner tour included the rest of the Common House including the children’s play corner, the laundry mainly for Common House washing with one machine and drier (typically apartments have their own European laundries in their bathrooms). Upstairs there is an indoor sports room and the young teenagers’ lounge. The community is well aware that there are going to be a whole lot of children becoming teenagers at the same time. They’ve been thinking about getting a caravan for teenagers. The conversation about the range of possible issues related with teenagers came up more than once during this visit.
Car parking is kept to the outer perimeter with some informal car-sharing between friends and Claus and his friend Joe are working on an energy proposal which includes sharing electric cars. Kids’ wheels get parked in the central garden space.
The train to Copenhagen from Albertslund station is only a ten-minute walk away (a few minutes by bike) and about 20 minutes into the city on the train. Dedicated bike storage sheds incorporated into the building are not enough and bikes surround the whole community. The very next community project is to be the building of more bike storage.
There are five Engs (similarly designed housing complexes) – the other four are not co-housing although some might wish they were. Lange Eng means Long Meadow.
After the tour, climbing the steel stairs to the second floor apartment in the modern, Danish-style buildings, it was a lovely to meet Nete, Claus’s lovely wife and to have the first of many delightful conversations with them both.
At Lange Eng, when a new member signs up to be part of Lange Eng community they must sign up to be in the Common House Group as part of the contract. The other adult must join the Garden Group and learn to be a gardener. The whole community make the big decisions about budget and things to build etcetera at its meetings, at least bi-annual, and people are expected to be engaged in decision making and to obey the orders of the whole community. If there was a problem of serious significance a member could be given three months notice and forced to sell.
However in general there is very little turnover. The last three houses that went on the market sold very quickly. Co-housing in Denmark is generally holding its value if not improving whilst the rest of the market is not doing quite so well.
The householder is expected to maintain their own property and if this is neglected, the community can call in a tradesman at the cost to the member.
The intranet was set up by an accomplished, highly skilled person and works well in meeting the community’s communication needs. Most things are organised and communicated by intranet … movies, dinners, etc … and it also contains a page for each household where they introduce themselves to each other with words and photos making it easier for new members to get to know who’s who.
Claus and Nete see the community filling important cultural roles and supporting parents and grandparents. “We have to look after each other”. This is really a common ethos in Denmark as a Social Democratic country where they get supported with renewable energy – wind and solar – and a generally happy to pay higher taxes for the benefit of all and for future generations.
Most Danish workers will get six weeks annual leave. Maternity leave is for nine months on full pay and can be extended. Paternity leave is six months on full pay. And they support the ethos of “Reciprocity”.
When a new member comes to the community they are looked after for the first month. The Co-ordinator (in this case – because this is a small task – it falls to someone who is naturally attuned to this job) calls for a family that has the energy to volunteer to ‘buddy’ the new member family.
The Co-ordinator of the Advertising group promotes the visits of architectural students and other groups that want to visit Lange Eng.
Co-ordinators from the small groups (lawns, gardens, Common House, etcetera) keep them on top of their tasks.
In addition to all this, Lange Eng of course enjoys spontaneous and planned social events. They have an annual Cabaret where their own House Poet performs. He cleverly puts together a funny poem derived from the headings of their intranet emails over the year; black humour with a lot of ‘in jokes’.
Nete suggested a short bike ride with her and the children into Albertslund going via the railway station for future reference, and the shops. She pointed out some houses that were very modern when they built in the 1960’s, that had been recently renovated and a bit later pointed out some others, made of asbestos and with no floor insulation, that were in dire need of renovation.
Albertslund is generally a lower-socio economic area but co-housing and some of the local facilities it is bringing to the wider community is helping to bring positive transformative change to the people and the area. The Community Building or big Common House was built for the wider community for this purpose.
Community Centre built for the neighbourhood
The photos from the big picture windows into the community and from the upper floor out to the wider world show the crisp Danish lines of the architecture and the beauty of the surrounding area. There is a lot of natural woodland very near-by Lange’s Eng. Within minutes it is possible to be in the countryside.