In the hottest summer in years and even with many students going home for the summer SEASALT Housing Co-operative have been busy getting everything ready for Freshers whilst simultaneously putting an offer in on a former 15 bed care home. Being in Brighton has also made for some great meeting venues. “Heatwave summer! SEASALT Housing Co-operative meeting with a view!”
We’re super excited for welcoming lots of new members to make the dream of launching the 1st student led housing co-operative in Brighton a reality. Here’s a re-cap so you can see what we’ve been up this summer.
At the end of June we had our last group meeting before two of our members went on their year abroad. Bethan, Tim & Gareth from Co-ops UK came down to hear about SEASALT’s progress and we learnt about the aims of Student Co-op Homes, the new National Body for Student Housing Co-operatives to grow the sector of student led housing co-operatives. Whilst we were hoping SCH might have been our way to finance SCH isn’t at that stage yet so we’re keeping in the loop but pursuing other avenues at least for now.
We started work on a design brief for all marketing materials, Sim met the designer (a Brighton recent graduate) and Ruthie worked on an info leaflet about SEASALT and more generally the student housing crisis and how housing cooperatives provide a viable alternative.
The group considered community shares as one way to finance but felt this might affect the future direction of the co-op as all shareholders have a stake in how the co-op develops. Crowdfunding is another option, although the challenge is raising the money in enough time to match the speed developers normally work at (and hence buy property). Once we’ve got more members we could consider crowdfunding options again aware that a big campaign and a frequent online presence is needed to make it successful.
We started work on getting a loanstock pack together. Loanstock is a common way for housing co-ops to raise money through family, friends and people/ organisations sympathetic to the cause. Loanstock is normally lent over a 5, 10 or 15 year period between 0-5% interest. Even though it is a common model with co-ops raising tens or hundreds of thousands through loanstock it felt more of a challenge for students particularly as it would involve leaving future loan repayments to a future group of students. Finance has been the biggest challenge so far.
We are however incredibly lucky to have funding for project support through Brighton and Hove Community Land Trust (BHCLT), along with free training and expert help. They’ve also done an incredible job at helping us find suitable properties that fit our criteria. A former care home came up at auction, although that would have meant finding all the finance within a month so we left that for the developers. Within quick succession another one came up. The exciting thing is it’s 15 beds, but there is space for 18 and it’s actually in good condition with a big garden. BHCLT are direct touch with the owner. You can see some of the photos below:
It was exciting to see it and we felt there was lots of potential, big rooms and a garden. We grappled with the Radical Routes 40 year financial spreadsheet running various scenarios, interest rate ‘stress tests’ through it to see how much we needed to raise and how much income we could expect from rent. We also had to research and include costs such as insurance, extraordinary maintenance and legal fees. The care home stacks up financially but we still need to find 20% to put down as a deposit. Luckily BHCLT are currently looking into ‘bridging finance‘ on our behalf to buy the building with SEASALT leasing it from them. This is similar to how other student housing co-ops have set up; Phone Co-op currently provides a 7 year lease to Birmingham Student Housing Co-op. This allows the members time to build up a track record of looking after and managing the property. BHCLT is part of the National Community Land Trust and it would mean the property remains a community asset, and keeps rents affordable.
SEASALT finally got a meeting with the very busy Saul Becker, Vice Chancellor at University of Sussex. He’d read everything we’d sent out which was so good and it meant we could get straight to all the exciting developments. Of most interest we’d taken the University of Sussex strategy and been able to highlight in its entirety all the ways Housing co-ops meet the University strategy. We shared our financial projections and the various options for how the University could support the project.
We had another look at ‘the rules‘ which is the model co-ops need to be governed by and is a legal requirement. We decided to change some of the standard rules to make sure they were fit for purpose for SEASALT.
No 31. ordinary General Meeting shall be convened by not less than 3 members or 1/3
No. 35 QUORUM: CHANGE TO: 1/3 of all members minimum 3 members
No 49. committee 1/3 all members, min 3 no greater than total number of housed members
No 66. Committee Meeting: 1/3 total subject to a minimum of 3.
We had to allow some flexibility making sure decisions weren’t made with too few members, but that equally things didn’t get blocked or delayed e.g over the summer months if fewer members were around. As we don’t know the size of the property yet it was hard to predict exactly so we tried to make it suitable for a medium sized property and giving the chance for all members to be on the committee. For our purposes the committee is the same as the housed members, rather than a separate management committee.
Following making an offer on the care home we need to submit planning permission (to change its use from care home to residential) Sim drafted a great letter to the neighbours to introduce SEASALT and project aims. We’ve worked closely with Dot Kirk, Community Enabler (BHCLT) who came out door knocking with us. Inspired by a couple of residents we came up with Our Community Promise to demonstrate SEASALTs commitment to being good neighbours. We dropped letters in 45 households, spoke to 11 households and got invited in 5 times too. We got lots of positive responses, people thanked us for taking the time to come and speak to them.
“More power to your elbow”, “It would be great to get more young people around”, “I’m all for it. I wish you all the luck”
The enthusiasm and commitment of our members is incredible. Dan appeared for one night to come out door knocking when he was only back in Brighton two days and is off on a year abroad as part of his course next year.
Following the door knocking we invited more of the residents to meet SEASALT in a local pub. We got a lot of questions about how a student led co-op worked. It was good practice! People picked up on our door knocking from far and wide. Here’s a good one from San Francisco! “young adults taking control of their destiny…together. Inspiring. Wish I had that presence of mind when I was their age. real #sharingeconomy”
The week before Freshers was one of the most eventful. Our official certificate and Co-op registration with the Financial Conduct Authority came through & we received loads of co-op stickers from Co-ops UK.
We finally managed to open a bank account with a bank which has a high ethical rating. The same week three members went to the BHCLT AGM & Celebration and saw the SEASALT premier on the big screen, part of a short documentary film to showcase the journey of some of the community led housing projects in Brighton. You can watch it on youtube we are 0.17 seconds in! We were so happy to be given the opportunity to be in this. I definitely made an exception as I’m not usually a fan of being filmed but this is something I am so passionate about it was worth it. The same week we worked on all the final designs and edits with the designer and now we’ve sent the banners, Freshers flyers and leaflet all off to print. wow! And our Instagram is up and running now thanks to Mary!
One of our members has been away but we will be welcoming her back on Monday and we’ve got a meeting with Kelly Coate, Pro Vice Chancellor for Students & Education at University of Sussex.
Even though some members have been away or have left for now on a year abroad we’ve been able to make final group decisions by sharing everything online and everyone has helped whenever they can. Proof that people do get involved when it’s something they’re passionate about. Props to an awesome team!
And now the really busy time starts Freshers!
We’ve got lots of events and socials coming up for anyone interested in finding out more about the project or volunteering! Come and say hello to SEASALT at Freshers!
Thanks to all our supporters & awesome volunteer team!