The first five years of co-operative housing in Wales

In 1972 David Bowie sang….

We got five years, stuck on my eyes

We got five years, what a surprise

We got five years, my brain hurts a lot

We got five years, that’s all we got

(From ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’)

40 years later on 5th November 2012 – I remember it well – I started as Co-operative Housing Project Manager at the Wales Co-operative Centre on a ‘bold and ambitious project’, as Huw Lewis, the former AM, who had ministerial responsibility for housing at the time called it.

In the first year we worked with eight pioneer housing schemes that were providing democratic ownership and management of homes, leading to people taking responsibility and feeling a sense of belonging, identity and ownership – System Stewardship. We had some financial support from the Co-operative Membership and I kept my ‘eyes stuck’ on all the emerging schemes.

In year two, the late Carl Sargeant AM, and former Minister for Housing and Regeneration, provided a £1.9m social housing grant for three pilot pioneers, thereby developing 87 co-operative homes,  that otherwise would not be developed at all. The three came from the eight schemes that we worked with in year one. One of these schemes, Loftus Village Association in Newport, provided some of the benefits of individual home ownership within a supportive safety net, through its ‘back to back’ leasehold shared ownership co-operative scheme. It was no surprise that this innovative scheme was a success.

In 2014, Lesley Griffiths AM became Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, with responsibility for housing, and launched the Old Oak tenant management housing co-op in Carmarthen, where founder members helped others to reshape their lives, get skills and work. Other co-op housing schemes around the country were transforming neighbourhoods previously affected by a lack of trust and sense of community or anti-social behaviour. People used their collective expertise so that there was less ‘hurt’ in their communities.

In the project’s fourth year Carl Sargeant returned to the housing brief in the new Welsh Government, as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, and we helped form Wales’ first urban Community Land Trust (CLT) in West Rhyl, with Vibrant and Viable Places regeneration monies – building on the real and mutually supportive existing community – a tapestry of human interaction – that characterises the sector. Using ‘all that you’ve got’ makes good sense.

At the end of the fifth successful year, because of the high satisfaction rates amongst residents of the housing co-operative schemes, Rebecca Evans AM, Minister for Housing and Regeneration, is looking at how we can continue to grow the sector.

We are also grateful to the Nationwide Foundation which continues to support the co-operative housing movement in Wales, where there is comparable quality of service provision to other providers. And we don’t want to let these resilient communities fall.

I look forward to the next five years of meeting individual needs and aspirations through community based businesses (housing co-operatives). This will be done in the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believing in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others, and thereby building a co-operative country, developing one co-operative planet, and even stretching as far as ‘Mars’, as Bowie might have put it.

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