In 2014 a group of students in Birmingham successfully set up the first student housing co-op in the UK. To gain more of an insight into what living in a student housing co-op is really like, and to gather information into how its run, a group from SEASALT went to visit for a weekend.
It goes without saying that it was a very informative, enjoyable and inspiring weekend. We sufficiently discussed, and our brains were sufficiently filled with, all things housing co-operative-y and we left reminded of the fact that what we are trying to achieve is
possible, and exciting. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and were welcomed into the 9 bed property and after chatting for a while we had a tour around. What struck us was the freedom that the members of the coop/tenants/students have to change and adapt their home and garden to meet their needs. Bedrooms had been redecorated (and were in the process of being redecorated), something that is simply not possible when renting in the private market. If something broke in the house, members didn’t have to wait for a landlord to get someone in- they could do that themselves. Work to better insulate the property had recently been completed. In many respects, it highlighted how limiting the standard student rental market can be.
This of course all takes a lot of organisation and co-ordination, another aspect of the housing co-op that really stood out to us. Members have to be part of working groups and these are responsible for their respective roles, such as finance. Although there is a lot more time and effort needed to keep the housing co-op successful, one member mentioned just how worth it it is. Renting and living in any house has stressful moments, but in housing co-ops you are not relying on anyone else and have full control, which can in itself relieve stress. Fortnightly meetings, chore boards and ongoing lists are strategies that Birmingham Student Housing Co-op use and it gave us lots of ideas about what the day to day running of SEASALT will entail.
The community feel at BSHC was very clear and we liked how much effort had gone in to making people feel welcome and accepted in their home. We realised the importance of creating an environment where people had the space to talk and open up to each other. It seemed that the coop certainly provide a supportive network to each other, something that makes housing co-ops more than just a building. Communal meals and cross co-op events show how BSHC are reaching out to the wider community and sharing skills, knowledge and food with a range of people. They certainly shared a lot of knowledge with us!
Thanks all at Birmingham Student Housing Co-op!
Look out for our next blog post about history and stories of Housing Co-ops!