My grandmother Shirley Meredeen, who has died aged 92, was a pioneer of co-housing, champion of older women and passionate feminist and socialist.
In 1989, shortly before retiring, she attended a Growing Old Disgracefully (GOD) course, where she co-founded the Hen Coop, a group that aimed to inspire women to challenge conventional views of ageing. In 1993, with Madeleine Levius, she formed a national GOD network and the group published several books, sharing life stories and wisdom on ageing.
After the publication of research on senior co-housing models, Shirley and five other women formed Older Women’s Co-Housing (OWCH) in 1998. The group expanded and started to develop its ethos.
So began the task of seeking funding and a site, acquiring planning permission, building a membership, negotiating with sceptical local authorities and collaborating with housing associations and architects. Overcoming these challenges, residents moved triumphantly into New Ground, a co-housing community in Barnet, north London, in December 2016. Shirley enjoyed six years in her new home, attending current affairs, theatre and book groups as well as New Ground committees.
Shirley was born in Newington Green, north London, to Benjamin Lewis, a chief draughtsman at London Transport who worked with Harry Beck on the original London Underground map, and Pearl (nee Burzynska). Both sets of Shirley’s grandparents had migrated to the East End as Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms. Shirley and her older brother, Lionel, spent their childhood in north London.
Leaving the North London Collegiate school for girls at 17, Shirley learned shorthand and typing. She worked as a secretary in Fleet Street and later as a journalist in Grimsby, Scunthorpe, south Wales and Essex.
In 1951 Shirley married Sander Meredeen, a training manager in the iron and steel industry who later became a university lecturer and silversmith, then a personnel manager at the Ford Motor Company – and the pair lived in Lincolnshire, Wales and Essex as his career developed. They had two sons, Bruce and Clive.
After the couple divorced in 1978, Shirley held various student support roles in London colleges. By the age of 54, she had completed an Open University humanities degree and a counselling qualification.
Her last years were lively despite chronic arthritis. She continued to bake, travel, follow world events and participate in research on co-housing. She delighted in showing visitors the beautiful New Ground gardens. Even during lockdown, the sense of community continued and Shirley could be seen weight-lifting tins of soup on her balcony.
She is survived by Bruce and Clive, and her grandchildren – to whom she was known as Booba – Rachel, Jessica, Ben and Elena.