Co-operation among co-operatives – what co-op housing associations can learn from each other
by Dave Palmer, Co-operative Housing Project Manager, Wales Co-operative Centre
The 6th International Co-operative Principal – Co-operation among Co-operatives, states that ‘Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the Co-operative Movement by working together, through local, national, regional and international structures.’
With this in mind, Glenn Bowen and Dave Palmer from the Wales Co-operative Centre, recently joined around 60 people from all over England, representing Councils, Community Groups and national organisations, together with Cardiff City Council, to give evidence to the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network’s Housing Commission on Community-led Housing. The event, held in Croydon, aimed to share the challenges and successes of those involved in current co-operative housing schemes, in order to learn from the experiences of others and improve the future of the co-operative housing movement.
Nic Bliss from the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, launched the session by outlining the challenges for community-led housing schemes. He noted that access to land/buildings is a challenge for any new housing project and that sometimes the perceptions of the sector can be difficult to overcome. Identifying who to involve, and developing those people, as well as finding the right support to develop the community-led aspect of project was thought to be another consistent difficulty.
Nic suggested that local authority support could be a major advantage when setting up a new project. By including community-led schemes in their housing strategies, local authorities could help with identifying potential sites and resolving any planning issues.
He went on to suggest that joint-working, with partner housing associations/developers and local authorities, was a good way to meet local needs and those of potential founder members. Local authorities could also use their borrowing powers and financial instruments to help facilitate the aforementioned.
Dave Palmer then took to the stand and outlined how community-led and community-based Co-operative housing schemes in Wales can be supported in the current climate. He spoke about the opportunities available, by giving examples of recently completed schemes in which co-operative housing teams and councils worked together in Wales. The examples given were:
- Loftus Village – Four shared-ownership homes funded by Section 106 monies with support from Newport City Council
- Home Farm – Where the majority of tenants were selected from Cardiff City Council’s waiting list – a pre-allocated list of tenants with less immediate housing need.
- Old Oak – A Carmarthenshire County Council initiated scheme delivered by Housing Association/Pobl
Dave noted that other schemes were also evolving, for example, learning difficulty housing co-ops in Cardiff and Mold. In regards to financing, he mentioned that ‘Prudential Borrowing – Public Works Loan Boards Funding’ had been used by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council for Taf Fechan Housing Co-op and that Gelldeg and Gwynedd County Council were considering using the same funding for a rolling Community Land Trust fund in North Wales.
Dave ended the meeting by summarising the lessons the sector in Wales had learnt so far by working with local authorities. Firstly, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and bespoke arrangements are needed for each project. Secondly, that strong partnerships between communities, local authorities and housing associations had led to staff learning new skills and becoming as enthusiastic about the projects as the communities. An important factor to note was the enthusiasm with which the local communities had responded, when given the opportunity to get involved with housing schemes; participants enjoyed the training sessions and were happy in their new homes.
Nic concluded that local community support could make innovative schemes possible, where traditional approaches could not and that it was possible to meet local authorities’ housing objectives through community led housing schemes, meaning that partnering could be a positive arrangement for all involved.
Dave and Glenn have extended an invite to councils, community groups and other national organisations, to contact them to arrange visits to housing co-ops in Wales to find out more.