Brighton is known nationally as a hot spot of co-ops and their history goes back a long way right to the very start of the co-operative movement. In 1828 The Brighton Co-operative Benevolent Fund Association, based on the communal ideas of social pioneer Robert Owen, was formed on 1 January 1828 and opened a shop at 31 West Street, the first co-operative retail shop in the country.
Among its supporters were Dr William King of Brighton who wrote articles for a monthly journal, The Co-operator, of which twenty-eight issues were published from May 1828 until August 1830; they were one of the inspirations for the Rochdale pioneers and the seven co-operative principles which underpin the ethos of all co-operatives.
Robert Owen is regarded as the founder of the Co-operative Movement. His vision was for villages of co-operation, a “New World Order” of mutual help and social equality. There are now countless co-operatives in Brighton from food co-ops, bike co-ops, housing co-ops, there is even a jazz co-op. Each co-op is democratically ran by its members and numerous studies show that co-operatives are stronger and more resilient than other models.
The story of the much loved Infinity Foods workers co-operative started at University of Sussex back in 1970’s with the world’s first macrobiotic restaurant when health food shops were non existent. You can read more about the story of Infinity on Peter Deadman’s blog here: https://peterdeadman.co.uk/about/infinity-foods/
Brighton and Hove Community Land Trust (a community benefit society, part of the National Land Trust) is in the midst of running an incredible community led housing programme in the city supporting groups who dream big, who refuse to accept expensive housing and instead harness their energy to create an alternative. From self builds to intergenerational housing to community hubs the people involved are proactive, creative and an inspiration.
SEASALT Housing Co-op are extremely lucky to have the support from Brighton & Hove Community Land Trust and are known as one of the leading community led housing projects in the city. This couldn’t be done without such an incredible student volunteer team and vision of former Sussex sabbatical officer, Lyndsay Burtonshaw and current officer; Aisling Murray who both included setting up a student housing co-operative on their manifestos.
Nationally the student co-operative model is growing too and if you are interested in finding out more I highly recommend coming along to the next Students for Co-operation conference, held on Sat 2nd & Sunday 3rd Feb in Edinburgh. Yes it is a long way but it is also home to the largest student housing co-op in the UK. It promises to be an inspiring weekend and the last SFC conference in 2015 was where the seed of setting up a student housing co-op was first planted for me after meeting founding members of the other student housing co-ops.
So it is possible to overcome the odds. On Sat 8th Dec I went to Bunker self build Housing Co-op @bunkerbuild to celebrate that building has started! Bunker Housing Co-operative was started by a couple of low income families who were at risk of being priced out of Brighton for good but refused to accept this or continue to pay sky high rents. I have total respect for them for having the ambition and drive to make this happen on no money. They worked hard, applied for grants & loanstock and will now live in beautifully designed, energy efficient, affordable homes. The dream!! Watch more here!
As people become increasing isolated, with growing numbers admitting they spend more time on social media than having real life connections co-operatives provide a way of working together to create a community. They are protected as a community asset and not for profit.
When asked if students can do this it is always a resounding YES! Edinburgh is the shining example where 106 student members successfully manage the property and have totally transformed it from bland characterless rooms to rooms that are both practical and homely.
Students from both Sussex and Brighton University are working together and demonstrating that with the energy and determination you can essentially learn how to set up a business. Students have the opportunity to apply their skills to a real life project and there is such a range within the group from bookkeeping, law, cyber safety, marketing to campaigning that whatever course you are doing if you believe in the power of working co-operatively you can put them to good use!
SEASALT will be the first student led housing co-operative in the South East, changing the future of student housing co-ops forever. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of making this happen!
I will end with a quote from Dr William King, “Knowledge and Union are power: Power, directed by Knowledge is happiness. working people suffer both poverty and insecurity .. because they work for others, not ourselves.”