How to work in partnership in a housing co-operative
From Vicky Watts – Old Oak Housing Co-op – Carmarthen
My experience was that we were going to build a co-operative scheme and had to find the interested members through recruitment.
Our development (construction) process began some time before we recruited the members; Welsh Government had offered funding, Carmarthenshire Council took it on, earmarked a site, did outline planning and then handed it over to us – which is where our construction process and the recruitment began.
Working with the members kicked in for real in July 2014 when we held open information sessions. Anyone interested was invited to put their name on a list, and we worked from that list to make offers. We held a social event in December 2014, where members met for the first time – very informal, mince pies and games!
In January 2015 we began a programme of training for the members, supplied by Confederation of Co-operative Housing, with the first few sessions delivered by their Nic Bliss, and supported by Dave Palmer from the Wales Co-operative Centre. I then took over, arranging sessions from relevant colleagues on things like allocations, dealing with anti-social behaviour, rent management, repairs and maintenance etc. This meant that the members could then decide what aspects of housing management they wished to take on themselves – and which they didn’t! The sessions were fortnightly, and we broke for summer and Christmas. My role was development of the members, and liaison between Gwalia, the construction company and the co-op members. It was very intensive for much of the time, but this was working with a group of people who had no real idea what a co-operative was, to begin with.
We were lucky with the contractors – they were very proactive and worked very positively with the members – they held ‘bricklaying’ sessions – enabling members each to lay a brick at their own home, they helped to organise and fund a community tea party to help members meet their prospective neighbours, and they held poster competitions for children.
The properties were completed in December 2016 and members moved in during early January 2017. They signed a management agreement with us in June 2017, which sets out what their roles/responsibilities are and how they will carry those out. They have taken on low-level anti-social behaviour (retaining an option to buy in services from us), allocations and lettings, and landscape management, while they retain an option to take on matters such as repairs and maintenance at a later date.
Of course, I have just given you a bare outline of how it worked – the whole thing has taken three years to bring to a stage where we have given the group the tools they want to move onwards, but they will now be spending time settling down together in their homes.