Co-operative housing in Wales: building homes, creating communities, changing lives
From Tamsin Stirling, Wales Co-operative Centre board member (co-opted)
In early October, I was a guest at a co-operative housing workshop facilitated by the Wales Co-operative Centre and the Confederation of Co-operative Housing. The aim of the workshop was to reflect on the progress of the Welsh co-operative housing programme to date and to look at its next steps, in the context of Welsh Government priorities.
Twenty-two participants were provided with a space for thinking and sharing, and what emerged was passion, commitment and enthusiasm, along with a host of practical ideas for how the co-operative housing project could develop by applying the co-operative approach to different tenures, situations and groups of people. Suggestions ranged from a co-operative approach to bring empty homes back into use, to remodelling sheltered housing and student accommodation.
This last suggestion was also made at the Wales Co-operative Centre fringe event at the Co-operative Party conference in September. A young male student spoke with passion about the need for a different form of student accommodation – one that does not seek to maximise profit from the housing needs of students, who are already incurring significant debt to pay for their higher education.
Everyone at the October workshop who had been involved in developing and supporting housing co-operatives, spoke of a steep learning curve and of the resources that need to be invested. They also spoke of the desire to put their learning into practice again, to support the development of more housing co-operatives. Moreover, they talked about the immense benefits they had observed, not only for the groups of co-operators and the communities they have created, but also the positive changes that the experience had generated in their organisations – whether housing association or local authority.
The benefits for co-operators cannot be underestimated. Rather than me write about these, I would ask you to read the case study of Haydn, provided by Vicky Watts, who has been working with him and his fellow co-operators in the Old Oak Housing Co-operative in Carmarthen. This example speaks volumes for how co-operative housing can support well-being, inclusion and personal development.
During the workshop, we were asked to identify what our priorities are for the short, medium and longer-term. I said that, by 2020, I wanted to see co-operative housing embedded as an essential element in the delivery of affordable and market housing across Wales. As our case study shows, there is so much to be gained from achieving this. Let’s make it happen!
Old Oak Housing Co-operative, Carmarthen: Case Study – Haydn
Haydn is a 53 year old single man, with a long history of mental health issues, currently living in move-on accommodation. At the beginning of the co-operative pilot, he would have been in that accommodation for just over a year, having been referred there by a 24-hour supported scheme.
Haydn was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1990 and, throughout the 1990s, was in and out of hospital receiving psychiatric care due to several relapses. 2005 was the last time he was in hospital and followed by a move to the Tracs scheme where he spent 7 years. It was there he learnt independent living skills such as how to shop and cook for himself, and how to do laundry.
As he progressed, he continued to build on these skills and also learnt how to clean his living space and how to self medicate. These skills enabled Haydn to feel really positive about his future and being able to be part of the community.
At present, he lives independently, managing his own accommodation and self-medicating successfully with an input of 3 hours a week from Gwalia Care and Support (not floating support).
We first met at a public event for those who had expressed an interest in the Old Oak Housing Co-operative. Haydn attended with his support worker. His body language was closed and he communicated very little, making minimal eye contact only and answering in monosyllables. He attended the social event in December 2014, having been offered a property in the scheme, and has continued to attend the development sessions for co-operative members fortnightly since then. When he first attended, he always came with a support worker who remained with him; he continued for a short while to communicate very little, but his body language gradually opened up.
When roles and responsibilities within the co-operative were discussed, Haydn expressed a wish to take on responsibility for landscape maintenance and litter picking on the site; this assumption of responsibility means that the co-operative will not have to pay that portion of the housing management costs to Gwalia. As a result, he has applied to do some training appropriate to the role and is working with his support worker towards organising personal protection equipment (PPE) and so on.
As time has gone on, he has tailed off his support worker’s presence at co-operative sessions, firstly sending the worker away halfway through the session at the coffee break stage, and for quite some time now he has come alone and is usually the first member to turn up to sessions. His body language is open, he converses and smiles much more easily and he is supported by other members of the co-operative who welcome his input, cheer his achievements and encourage his participation. Haydn volunteered to become part of the policy group, which has been developing the co-op’s policies to be added to the management agreement.
The management committee of the co-op is currently using the meeting/training room at Ty Gwynfa for their monthly meetings. To enable this without inconvenience to staff, Haydn has been entrusted with having the access to that room added to his key fob, and so now provides access for co-op members on meeting nights.
He also recently took part in a ‘bricklaying’ event facilitated by Morganstone, developers of the co-operative site, where members each laid a brick in their own properties .
Vicky Watts, Gwalia Community Development Officer