Solid Network Fundraiser gets students from the Cork Student Housing Co-operative to Switzerland!
The Cork Student Housing Co-operative (CSHC) Group is a grassroots initiative made up of students from Cork City who want to create Student Accommodation in the form of a Housing Co-operative. The students were inspired by the likes of the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative; an apartment complex managed entirely by the tenants and is home to over 100 students (not to mention, they have the lowest rent costs in all of Edinburgh at approximately £320 a month!). The CSHC group hope to create something similar for Cork City: an affordable, community-led student accommodation that follow 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).
Image: Isabel, Cormac and Jennifer starting the Journey to Switzerland.
When the CSHC put out a call on Twitter that they were looking for funding aid to get some of their members to Switzerland for a Student-Led Housing Symposium, the Solid Network group immediately reached out to help (Co-operation Amongst Co-operatives in action!). Solid Network began a fundraising campaign; whereby donations would be matched by the Solid Network group. And so, Solid Network donated €300 to the CSHC group and aided in getting a third member over to the event (Thank you to everyone who donated in the fundraiser!!)
Image: The Cork and Belfast student co-op housing groups united for the first time!
So, where did those donations go? Members Isabel, Cormac and Jennifer flew over to Zurich, Switzerland on Friday the 23rd of September and attended the First Day of the Symposium in the co-operatively owned living, working and community space called “Zollhaus”. Here, the students met other students and stakeholders involved in co-operative housing from across Europe and North America. We even met our friends over at the Belfast Student Housing Co-operative in real life, for the first time! It was an incredibly inspiring day, filled with presentations from student-led accommodations from across Europe telling their stories.
Image: Presentation by Studentdorf Schlachtensee on how Architecture can influence student living.
Day 2, Saturday 24th of September, began bright-and-early as the attendees took a scenic train ride across Switzerland to the beautiful city of Geneva. Here, the group visited the first student housing co-operative “Montbrillant” (see image below). We were met with colourful graffiti and artwork covering sections of the walls, with the building itself being an architectural delight.
Image: La Ciguë members discussing Montbrillant’s origin story for the attendees
Then, the group walked to our destination of the day: a co-operative creative zone called “L’espace”. Here, we had a number of discussions regarding the possibility of creating a Federated Co-operative Network for all the student housing co-operatives across Europe to network and share information with one another. The attendees broke out into groups and discussed all of our ideas for this idea, and fruitful conversations were had.
Image: One Discussion Group sharing their ideas for a European student housing network.
Afterwards, we were surprised with a tour of the Codha Housing Co-operative; a stunning, 6 story apartment complex in the heart of the city. Stepping out onto the 4th floor balcony, we were met with the most spectacular view of the Swiss Mountains and Codha’s Community Roof Garden. We were all speechless! The entrances to all the apartments were situated on balconies, which were filled with flowers, plants and furniture. There was a real community and ‘homely’ atmosphere, aided through the open design of the building. We saw some members tending the vegetable garden, while children ran around joyfully. Not to mention there was an outdoor slide that brought you from the vegetable garden to the main floor, and yes, we all went down it!! This was certainly the highlight of the trip for many of us, to see community-led housing in action. It was an emotional experience for many of us, as we imagined how beneficial this type of housing could be for our home countries.
Image: The view from the 4th floor of Codha Housing Co-operative
On Day 3, we visited three more housing co-operatives, all managed by the co-operative housing organisation “La Ciguë”. The first Accommodation, “Hex.ao”, is home to 9 young people (all artists, designers and architects). The space is designed as a co-living and co-working space for young workers who are fresh out of college to aid in their transition from student to professional life. The building was originally a derelict factory, and was taken over by the co-operative as a pilot project for alternative living.
Images: Co-working Space, Bedroom Area & Kitchen of Hex.ao Co-op
The next housing co-operative was a narrow, high-rise building home to over 50 young adults and students; and is co-operatively organised and managed by these tenants. The members showed us their impressive solar energy system, based in the basement of the building, which provides electricity and hot water to all of the rooms. Every floor had a mural on one side of the hallway, with the communal areas including a rooftop kitchen and dining area. Like all of the other housing co-ops, the rent is kept low, and all profits are used for the upkeep of the building and communal expenses.
Images: Octopus mural in one of the hallways & a Clothes Swap Shop at Coulouvrenière
The final housing co-operative of the trip, “The Clos Voltaire” was situated in a stunning historical building that was once the French writer Voltaire’s summer home. The Geneva City Council worked together with La Ciguë to refurbish this building and bring new life to this once run-down area of the city. The building can house 30 students at a time and the historical features have been beautifully preserved. This was a great example of how city councils and students can work together to refurbish historical buildings to create low-cost, democratic (and beautiful) housing.
Images: The historical facade and winding staircase of The Clos Voltaire
Then, it was time to head back to Ireland and the CSHC group made their way home, exhausted but incredibly inspired from this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Image: Goodbye Switzerland!
We hope to apply our learnings from this trip to our situation in Cork City. We think the time is now for alternative living options for students in Ireland. Private student accommodation, many of which are owned by multinational companies, is on the rise across Cork City. However, the majority of students cannot afford the luxury services that they are providing. Many of these companies have starting rents of €900 a month. It is not sustainable or fit-for-purpose. Students are being blocked out of education because of the cost of accommodation and something drastic needs to happen.
It is unfortunate that we cannot rely on our government to provide housing for our students, so we must take matters into our own hands. Student-led, co-operatively run accommodation is a real, sustainable and ethical solution to this student housing crisis. Our aim is to promote the co-operative housing model as an alternative form of living, and eventually, create a student housing co-operative for the students of Cork city. It’s a daunting task, but with the support of people and organisations such as Solid Network, this dream seems like it could be a reality. As the saying goes “Alone we can do little; together we can do so much”. Thank you to everyone at Solid Network and we hope to co-operate with you all again in the near future.
Image: A big thank you from Cormac, Isabel, Jennifer & the rest of CSHC for your support!
Student-Led Housing Event Info: https://housingsymposium.coop/side-event/
La Ciguë: https://cigue.ch/the-cigue-presented/
Co-operative Housing in Switzerland: https://www.housinginternational.coop/co-ops/switzerland/