Mark, Arian, Amelie and Ruby Baynes have lived at Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood in Ranui, Auckland, since 2016, and have completely embraced the co-housing lifestyle, which makes it all the more difficult to leave.
But the family is quickly outgrowing their three-bedroom home, and they require a single-level house, as Amelie, 10, uses a wheelchair, and Mark, a jazz pianist, would like space to offer music tuition. “We need a little more space for our family, and so that our daughter with cerebral palsy can have one level,” says Arian Baynes. “That will make it easier as she grows.”
The girls have enjoyed their room upstairs, however: “We carpeted the floors, and it’s like a nest for Amelie,” says Mark.
The laid-back lifestyle has been a bonus for both children. “Ruby (9), our youngest, is in a gang of children that just moves around through the woods and the gardens and play areas,” Mark says. “It’s so safe for the children.”
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Discovering Earthsong, believed to be one of the first co-housing developments in New Zealand, was almost an accident back in 2016. “We were looking for a house, and typed in ‘eco’ and ‘organic gardens’, and saw a Trade Me ad to buy, and thought ‘that looks amazing’ but we didn’t have enough money, so the owners asked us if we would like to rent,” Arian says.
“In the meantime I got a job, which helps when buying a house, apparently,” jokes Mark. The family now owns a house that’s one of 32 households at Earthsong. They have privacy from neighbours, and their own garden and lawn area.
But first, once they were in a position to be able to buy into the community, the Baynes family had to wait for an opportunity. “You go on a list,” Mark says. “It’s pretty unheard of to buy a house here. Usually, it’s just the local network. They have scheduled group tours (of Earthsong) to promote co-housing and explain how it works here – they have outreach programmes.”
Because the property market is currently in a slump, the couple has listed their home privately, with enquiries invited over $1.1 million. And they say if they don’t sell, they will rent it out.
As with all the houses, their home is built from natural materials – rammed earth and macrocarpa, with cedar on the exterior. They have solar panels on the roof, which supplement their electricity needs. They also benefit from having a single line charge, and there are shared internet benefits.
The couple love the companionship provided by the community, and the multigenerational aspect (“there are plenty of babysitters”). The communal facilities mean each household gets “so much more”. Most of the gardens are communal, for example – everyone can enjoy these spaces, including the free-range children.
And everyone shares the numerous different jobs involved in the upkeep of the community. There are groups that work on the garden, general maintenance, permaculture and IT. “Everyone tries to chip in what they can with their own knowledge and the time they have got,” says Arian. “People are pretty understanding if you are busy with a family.”
A large, central community house is a place where people can hang out – there are pool tables, a living area, yoga room, shared laundry facilities, a guest suite that can be booked, and large kitchen for shared meals.
“Before Covid we were doing shared meals twice a week every week,” Arian says. “You take turns to be part of a cooking team of four or five if you want, and you spend the whole day shopping, organising and cooking for about 70 people. You get to know everyone really well. And once you have done that, you get all the rest of your meals free till your turn comes round again, which could be about two-and-a-half months.
“So much food comes from the gardens on the 1.6ha site. You’re just foraging all the time – vegetables, herbs and fruit. And there are hens (free-range) out behind our place. We have a roster for eggs, and on your day you can take however many you want. Otherwise you can pay 50c.”
Tools and garden equipment are also shared – there is a workshop where people can work on projects.
The couple admit there is a need to respect other people, so everyone can work together. “It can be wonderfully challenging at times, trying to get on with people, but it helps you grow as a person,” Arian says.
Because the family has forged such a sense of belonging at Earthsong, they don’t intend to move far away – they plan to stay in the same area, so they can remain in touch with their friends, and possibly still help out.