Reflections from The Reef workshop: Living Together

This post gathers documentation from The Reef community workshop on communal living. If you have participated, leave a comment below with your experience and feedback :slight_smile:
If you want to be included in the next workshop, sign up below, you can pick a form in the language you prefer. --> Lire en plus sur les ateliers - ici.

Today, everybody is displaced, the concept of home is changing. We want to rethink a home that is collective, a communal living. The Reef project is open and the idea is to build a strong community to make it real.

The idea of the Reef is to try a mixt model of green communal living and coworking in Brussels. The Reef is a project for the community, for the kids and everyone active at shaping the future.

Workshop programme:

3 rules of engagement : Deep Listening ~ Take Space when you need it ~ Don’t judge what others are saying

1.Speed Dating

In small groups, participants took 2 minutes to share his / her experiences regarding the following questions. After 15 minutes, we gathered and shared what we learned about the other person.

Table 1. How I do what I do

Table 2. How I interact with others in Brussels

Table 3. How I see my future

2. Focus Group

Participants were gathered into 1 group and openly discussed about the following questions

Do you think Brussels needs more community, more communal living models ?

What does living in community really means ? This is a concept relating to sharing a space and put in practise the community agreement build by the community.

Values, means of communication and resources can be shared within the community.
Yet, members need tools for conflict resolution. The community also requires time,money, intellectual and physical energy to function.

For those of you already living communally, how did you create the group ?

The capacity of personal investment in the community is a relevant indicator. This indicator can be balanced with the overall project the community is building regarding social inclusion or cultural development for example.

Do you think you find the right match ?

Experience proves it might be better to start with a few people, not necessarily life lasting friend. Experience also proves that a few, deep implicit rules might be more powerful than setting a list of rigid explicit rules at the beginning. The main priority is to develop a clear idea of how we want to live and then starts something. At the beginning even 7 - 9 people is already enough to start.

Would you be ready to rent, to buy, to negotiate a lower price than the market ?

Co-owning a place requires so much trust, you have to have done so much in your community agreement before putting money out.

A more flexible option could be to rent the space to the community and get spaces of freedom to move in and move out when necessary. For example, in such a model like a trust.
This structure could be another way of creating assets without taking too much risks.
In the trust model, a community buy a place, but the individuals rents it. People have flexibility to move in and move out. Especially when you have kids, you need a solid warranty on your investment. A trust would act as a neutral third part collecting investments.

3. World Café

Participants were divided into 3 smaller tables. Each table focused on one main area of the Reef community building.

The House: how does the space look like? How much common space, how much individual space? How many kitchens/ bathrooms? Green space? Where is it located? Who is it open to? Can people visit?

The space could be divided between common spaces and individual spaces. Individual spaces could be flexible depending everyone’s needs. Some space could served as a guest house.
The space could include a logistical area and a handraft area. It could also have an open coworking space during the day, with a café inside. This coworking space will bring a connection between the ecosystem and the outside world.
This place could also have agricultural production. With a land or even a terrace one can create a planet. Agroecology is an important topic. Building a place where we can grow food, have some animals, do aquaponics could be perfect.

The Activities: collective habits, economic organisation, activities for neighborhood. Which tools, methods, practices can we build to create a solid and engaged community?

Internal activities could be separated from external activities.
Cooking, eating are basic communal activities. Create a collective garden, do recup of unsold goods are also ideas. Cleaning and laundry are collective habits to discuss.
A connection can be created between inside activities and outside activities. For example if there is dancers in the house, then part of the outside activities could be nourished by living arts activities. There is also the idea of mixed used activities during day and night.
In Berlin, there is this co-housing space called Happy Pigeons. At night part of the house become an open place (for workshops, yoga classes for the neighborhood) and generates revenues.
At Lamab, activities such as graffitti, rollers, dance open a window of sharing for both users and initiators. Living arts require lot of interaction which strengthen the communal life when its well balanced.

The Community Agreement. Which could be effective principles, structures for the Reef: financially (do people have to pay and for what?), socially (who is included/ excluded? how are decisions made? how are conflicts resolved?), spatially (who can access space? how can someone leave the community?).

The group only focused on the financial aspect of the question.
Financially, a common pot could help to share money for everythings the community might need such as food and basic expenses.
Ressources can be financial but also related to skills or just people giving time for community.
About the structure, many forms exist for sure : asbl, cooperative, foundation.
Foundation looks relevant to create a trust and generate assets. The foundation is a legal structure that appear to protect assets that will turn into a patrimony. This patrimony is here for everytime.
In an ideal situation, everybody put the same account in the pot at the beginning but it depends because not everyone will come with the same individual situation in the community.

What did YOU learn? What surprised you?

If you participated, leave a comment below with your feedback!
If you want to be included in the next workshops on 14 November and 28 November, sign up here (pick a form in the language you prefer):


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You seem to have discussed the running costs aspects of finance: some money has to be paid every month, so that the house, as infrastructure, continues to function. I am curious: have you also discussed how the building itself is funded? Buy? Rent? What would be a sustainable price, and what would it buy?

For the building itself the main idea was to create a foundation functioning as a trust.

The trust has been described as "a more flexible option in which a community buy a place, but the individuals rents it. People have flexibility to move in and move out.

Because especially when you have kids, you need a solid warranty on your investment. A trust would act as a neutral third part collecting investments."

Yet, many participants were asking question on how does a trust generate assets. Maybe this could be clarified on the 3rd workshop @Noemi ?

Interesting first meeting, looking forward for the next one. inclusive oriented projects is a good beginning for a changing society

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It was interesting talking about the project. I’m looking forward to the last meeting of the 3 organized. I want to know more about the project and the community. Talking about the project: We didn’t have time to talk about the social aspect (who is included/ excluded? how are decisions made? how are conflicts resolved?). For me it should be written down after decided with the first members. For example new members could be interviewed and would fill out a form to show their interest and identity. And then by joining a first common activity to have a look… Edgeryders

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Hei @CynthiaWeber, thank you so much for joining and taking the time to write, I realise it is not easy to join a new online platform :slight_smile:

You hit the nail in the head! This is even a harder question: who are the ‘members’ of The Reef? At the moment, we are doing different things at the same time - looking for a building (we have a meeting in November with the Commune of Forest!), also also looking for the people who actually see themselves living with others in what I see is a life project. This takes time, because it is a self selecting process, and it becomes a chicken egg problem: who’s to say how it should work if the people involved don;t yet have a direct stake in it (financial or social)? Like Malcolm says in this interview,
I have to be careful on dispersing capital to a project like the Reef because the risk of losing it all is
big. The trust that has to be defined is Trust with capital T.

What we can confidently do is lay the groundwork for some specifics which can later be adapted by the people staying on with this process. A session on the sociality of The Reef will definitely be part of the Co-design Sprint. I could really use help with that, would you want to help prepare it?
Perhaps we could meet a few days before and see how to best facilitate it? Thank you!!

OK, but who would put in the necessary capital? And in return for what?

I worry that this is not clear. If I put 100K EUR into the capital of something (say, a foundation functioning as a trust) in return for a place to live, a problem arises. I have put in the money, but I do not own the place where I live – the trust does! So, I need to a very solid legal mechanism that guarantees that the trust will not change management five years down the line, and kick me out.

Were people at the workshop tentatively cool with giving substantial pots of their own money to a trust foundation, without receiving property in return? Because if so, it’s huge progress!

That has already been done … we have Mietshäuser Syndikat in Germany, which pioneered the legal mechanism for that. Basically a limited liability company under the exclusive control of an association, and all tenants become members of the association automatically (which is low cost and low admin, in contrast to changing a manager of a company).

The legal construct in other jurisdictions will be slightly different, and so far I’m not aware that it has been done anywhere else. At least the Mietshäuser Syndikat people say that somewhere. So if The Reef wants to pioneer that for Belgium …

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But does that not mean that 51% of members can deny the other 49% the right to live in the house, even after paying for it?

Not if the Articles of Association prohibit this, or require a 90% majority for that, or whatever one would want to put in for this case. Oh and of course, the AoA would also need a clause requiring that same overwhelming majority for changing the AoA.

“deep implicit rules might be more powerful than setting a list of rigid explicit rules at the beginning“ – I find this distinction confusing. How can implicit (not articulated) rules be deep? Why do explicit rules have to be rigid? I think it is first and foremost important for people setting up a community to be as explicit as they can be about their expectations. These expectations can then be the basis for rules – which can be reviewed and adjusted over time.

During this workshop we (a group of people coming together for the first time) only scratched the surface of the question how the Brussels community would be set up legally and financially - we probably didn’t have much expertise in the room either. Really great to hear about the Mietshäuser Syndikat - now we know where to look for inspiration. Danke, Matthias!

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@alberto the next and only opportunity to spend time collectively and work on the governance model is at the Co design sprint on 28 November, with @Sabine, @Matthias and others.
There was simply not enough time to go into details at the first workshop.
Would any of you be willing to facilitate a group work then? We will have the whole afternoon - 16:00 - 21:00, and we can structure it for more hands on exchanges, looking up models in advance etc.
Other (sub) groups will be working on the other aspects, like the one mentioned by @CynthiaWeber.

Yes, this seems like a good idea. Question: when will we know who is attending, and therefore what attendees know, etc.?

I could not agree more!

First of all, thank you so much to everyone for that experience, here is what I take from the 1st workshop about living together.

I found that the little groups working on dfferent topics worked well.
Meeting so many people from different backgrounds was nurturing for the brainstorming project.

Gathering brought me a broader picture of what is involved in changing the way we live and on how many levels change must take place. I had no idea how many aspects there are to the question of living together. And as Sabine said extremely well we only scratched the surface… :slight_smile: ! The fact of taking that realization from a group experience made me realize how much this project is not one that can or should be done alone.

So if there is one idea that I take with me for now it is the idea of a community ecosystem.
The idea that auto sufficiency doesn’t necessarily imply to work all alone but rather to try to be as resilient as possible to the futur changes of our world, together. I take with me the idea that working with other actors aligned with our values is interesting to construct a sustainable ecosystem on a long term basis.

Thanks to the team of edgeryders and also all the people that I have met during that workshop for the energy and motivation and keeping this process open to everyone.

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This is very well put!