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SolidNetwork

For the Co-operative and Solidarity Economy in Ireland

Co-operative Solutions to the Student Housing Crisis in Ireland

In May this year SolidNetwork gave our support to members of the Cork Student Housing Cooperative (CSHC) to travel and attend the National Gathering of Student Housing Co-operatives from UK & Ireland . SolidNetwork do not receive funding from any public institutions or foundations. Our modest annual budget comes entirely from members contributions. Supporting networking and cooperation among cooperators is at the heart of what our network is about.


Housing in Ireland has been in crisis for more than a decade and students are deeply impacted by this. It is hugely encouraging to see students in Cork so dedicated to developing a cooperative model of student housing in Ireland.


We thank Iona and AJ, members of the CSHC for preparing this report on their trip.


You can donate and support the Cork Student Housing Cooperative on Open Collective.

For further information on the CSHC here - https://linktr.ee/corkstudenthousingcooperative

 

Cork Student Housing Co-op attend Housing Co-op Conference in Brighton

Image: everyone in attendance at the conference on Day 1
Image: everyone in attendance at the conference on Day 1

About the Cork Student Housing Co-op

The Cork Student Housing Co-operative (CSHC) is a grassroots initiative made up of students in Cork City who want to create Student Accommodation in the form of a Housing Co-operative. They are a group of like-minded students who believe in alternative housing methods and furthering the co-operative mission. While there have been many student-led housing co-operatives throughout the UK, there has not been one in Ireland, therefore these students were inspired by students in Edinburgh, Brighton, Bristol and so on. The aim of the CSHC is to create something similar in Cork which would be an affordable, community-led student accommodation that follows the 7 co-operative principles:Open and Voluntary Membership, Democratic Member Control (one member, one vote), Members’ Economic Participation, Autonomy and Independence, Education, Training, and Information, Cooperation Among Cooperatives & Concern for Community.


Continued Support from SolidNetwork

SolidNetwork have supported the Cork Student Housing Co-operative previously and helped us get some of our members over to Switzerland for a Student-Led Housing Symposium in September 2022. It has been really incredible to see the co-operation between co-operatives in action. SolidNetwork donated €300 to CSHC which enabled us to send two of our members over to Brighton for the ‘How to grow the student housing co-op movement’ conference in May 2023. They also helped us to set up an Open Collective fundraiser to help cover our trip costs, we are extremely grateful to Kevin from SolidNetwork for all of his one-on-one support and everyone who donated - thank you so much!

Image: Day one of conference, first roundtable discussion of the day in the University of Sussex
Image: Day one of conference, first roundtable discussion of the day in the University of Sussex

Arriving into Brighton

What did the donations do? Two of our members, AJ and Iona, flew over to London from Cork on the 26th of May. The first day of the conference did not start until Saturday, so on Friday our members flew to London, then got a train from London to Brighton! They arrived in Brighton in the early evening and went to drop off their bags, explore Brighton a little bit, get some food and an early night before the conference started the next morning.

Day One of the Conference: Exploring, Making Friends & Sharing Stories

On the morning of the conference, we headed to the University of Sussex; getting used to public transport in a new city is always fun and we may have had a few hiccups but we eventually made it to the university (maybe with some help from our new co-op friends who had made the same journey earlier in the day). When we arrived at the University of Sussex, we admired how integrated nature was with the university - there were multiple areas in which the grass and flowers were left unkept and natural for biodiversity, along with bug hotels, forestry and ponds.


Upon our arrival at the conference area, we were greeted by the facilitator of the event, Anke Schwittay. Anke Schwittay is a Professor of Anthropology and Global Development at the University of Sussex, and is currently researching in the area of student co-operative housing and the student co-operative movement across the UK and Ireland. While Anke was the facilitator of the event, the event would not have been possible without the support of the University of Sussex, along with the encouragement of Student Co-op Homes and a student housing co-op in Brighton called “SEASALT” (South EAst Students Autonomously Living Together). The event started with a light lunch before we began the work for the day.


Image: Iona & AJ at the entrance to the University of Sussex
Image: Iona & AJ at the entrance to the University of Sussex

Learning from the Co-operative movement

Our first event of the day was a round table with everyone in attendance. The discussion began with a welcome address from Anke who spoke about her interest in researching student co-operative housing and who delved into a report about the origin of housed co-ops while discussing that each co-operative have different contexts, they all have commonalities in being student-driven and supported by secondary organisations.


We then heard from Sky, Hakim, and Dan who are all currently living in SEASALT - they spoke about the history of their housing co-operative and the close relationship they have with Brighton and Hove’s Community Land Trust. Dan discussed how, as a disabled person, living in a co-operative gives him more care and support than he would receive from the private rental market.


Scott Jennings then spoke as Chair of the Student Co-op Homes board of directors. He spoke about how these kinds of meetings and tours of other student co-operatives can re-inspire groups and something we should regularly try to engage with. This specifically spoke to AJ who has been involved in the co-operative scene in Cork for the past four years but this was her first opportunity to see an actual student co-operative house in action.


Many Routes to the same Destination

We then went around the room and heard thoughts and expertise from students from each co-operative in attendance. We heard from Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, along with ourselves from Cork. The most interesting thing we were able to take from this is how many different ways each co-op got their property. Cork was one of the few co-ops in attendance that still did not have a property. It was really interesting to understand that there were not just one or two standard routes to finding a house, but many different roads and opportunities. We did have to also understand that the legal system we were discussing things under was within the United Kingdom, and some of the practical advice would not translate across the pond. It was disheartening to learn that other student housing co-operatives do not have a positive relationship with their university’s Students Union; we gained a new appreciation for the strong relationship and support we have from UCC and MTU Students’ Unions.

After the roundtable we heard from other board directors from Student Co-op Homes and other organisations such as Roots, Radical Routes, Collaborative Housing Oxford, Architectural Association London, and the Confederation of Co-operative Housing. Each organisation offered a different purpose and perspective to the wider conversation of cooperation. One organisation spent time learning from the co-operative housing movement in North America who have been known for their successful student cooperative achievements. Some organisations offer financing and support either directly or indirectly to student co-operative organisations. After the closing remarks for the day, we headed over to SEASALT Student Housing Co-op where we were graciously hosted for the night.


Seeing a Student Housing Co-op for the first time

Staying in an actual student housing co-operative was such an incredible experience; it really gave AJ & Iona real-life proof of what they were working towards. Our amazing hosts made dinner for everyone who was at the conference that day (living in a co-operative gives you experience cooking for 40 people, sometimes). We got a tour around the co-op; it has 7 bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, ground floor accessible toilet, front and back garden, with a vegetable patch. We also examined the chore chart for everyone in the house, each person’s tasks change each week and everyone is accountable to one another. We have actually taken this chart and adapted it to roles within our own co-op now; each week a different person takes on the role of chair, secretary. While we learnt a lot during our stay in SEASALT, we also had a lot of fun bonding with everyone who lives there and members from other co-operatives; it was a great evening hanging out with a group of like-minded people yet so diverse, by the end of the night it felt like we were having a sleepover with our best friends.

Day Two: Discussion groups & Brainstorming

On day two of the conference we were up bright and early for our long walk back to the University of Sussex. We may have been moving a bit slower than the day before from staying up too late chatting with everyone. At the beginning of day two we broke out into different groups for specific sessions. At first, Iona & AJ went to the co-operative activism group as that is where both of their expertise lies. It was enlightening to get other people’s perspectives from different areas and see both the successes and challenges they’ve dealt with. A place where we all seemed to lack engagement was networking which was a little ironic considering the space we were in; but CSHC have made that one of our goals for this year, to network, build relationships and grow membership. We then moved around to other groups such as the skill sharing group which really educated us in ways to keep the co-operative alive and kicking while founding or current members age out of being students - this topic of ‘succession’ is really important to us.

After a lovely lunch in the gardens of Sussex University, we split into groups again. These groups were more specific and dealt with complex issues, these groups were; Initial Set Up, Land and Sites, Finance, Support for Co-ops, Media, Campaigning and Outreach, and finally, Equality, Diversity, Accessibility, Environment and Sustainability.


Modern ways to engage students…Dating Apps?

AJ attended the Media, Campaigning and Outreach - while AJ did have prior experience working in this area, they wanted to understand what other student co-operatives did in regards to their campaigning and membership outreach. We quickly came to an understanding that if someone is interested in the co-operative movement then they are more than likely also invested in other movements such as the feminist movement, supporting refugees, LGBTQ+ rights, disability rights and so on. This can become a problem in relation to creating echo chambers but acknowledging that as a problem is a step to preventing it from becoming an active problem. An interesting understanding that was made is how other co-ops, particularly SEASALT, gained new interest and membership via dating apps. It is unsurprising to find out that a lot of university students are on dating apps, however we were surprised to find out that Tinder has helped expand the reputation of SEASALT, gain new members and even how some of the current students living there found out about its existence!

Conference Closing Time

We ended the day by sharing what each group discussed, starting with the problems and challenges, solutions and successes in each area. This was fantastic as it meant even if you weren’t in that group, you still benefited from the discussion. Closing remarks of the conference were given by Anke who thanked everyone for the contributions over the course of the two days, along with thanking everyone who made the conference possible.


Our Takeaways

For us, the conference gave us such different perspectives and ideas surrounding the work we do. AJ in particular was feeling somewhat disheartened with the student housing co-operative movement after spending the past 3 years working in the area with no property to show for it. However, this conference and the people involved really reinvigorated AJ who felt so inspired by stories, knowledge and experience shared from other co-operatives throughout the weekend. Iona is one of the newer members to the Cork Student Housing Co-operative and has a huge interest in the environment and sustainability, and left the conference with so many new ways that we can incorporate those ideals into our co-operative.

Final “Thank Yous”!

This trip would not have been possible without the continued support from SolidNetwork and their members. Thank you all so much for making this incredibly worthwhile opportunity and experience possible for us - we really appreciate all of your support!

If you’ve any questions, please email: corkstudenthousingcooperative at gmail.com

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