On 21st December 1844, a group of 10 weavers and 20 other small merchants banded together and opened their first store at 31 Toad Lane, in Rochdale, Lancashire. Selling just butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles at first, over the next 150 years ‘the Co-op’, as it would come to be known, would go on to have a transformative effect on the British retail landscape. What is often forgotten today is that within its founding ‘Objects’ of association, it was the provision of housing (not only groceries!) that gets a very prominent mention:
“Benefits of the society should include… The building, purchasing or erecting a number of houses, in which those members desiring to assist each other in improving their domestic and social condition may reside”.
The food store that stands on the corner of nearly every British high street today has since become a very different organisation to that which any one of those ‘Rochdale Pioneers’ could have imagined. Instead, it is an organisation that has debated and implemented a clear plan for its role within the twenty-first century. It is now time for co-operative housing to do the same.
The full extent of the housing crisis across the UK is an incredible source of misery for many, particularly for young families. ‘Building for our future: a vision for social housing’ (a recent report by Shelter) highlighted that the average cost of a home in England is now more than eight times the average salary; that private renters on lower-incomes now spend an average of 67% of their earnings on rent; and that across the country some 277,000 people are now homeless. The report concluded by saying that we need to build 3 million new homes in the next 20 years if we are ever going to address this problem – a target we are far from being likely to meet.
As successful co-ops, with all the experience and knowledge that this brings, we’d like to invite partner co-ops to consider what all this really means for us. Whilst CDS are looking for new sites and supporting new co-ops and community led organisations, we’d like our established partner co-ops to consider whether they have the appetite to do more?
It is important to stress that what ‘more’ might look like is not entirely clear yet… There is no fixed agenda and we are genuinely keen to learn from and hear your ideas. It might mean something as simple as lending your expertise to other groups who are forming so that they can learn from your experience, or it might mean something more complex like creating ‘loan stock’ to lend money to other projects. It may even mean surveying your own land with a view to providing space for new co-ops, or building a few more homes yourself.
If you are up for a conversation about what we could do together then do get in touch!