Be the ladder – help Tir Cyffredin housing co-op buy their first home!
It’s crunch time for Wales’ newest housing co-operative Tir Cyffredin. With only a few weeks left to raise the £140,000 they need to buy the home their future hangs in the balance.
See this page in: Cymraeg
For Tir Cyffredin housing co-op success means seven affordable spaces to rent and a valuable community hub for generations to come. Failure means members having to leave their home and the house going on to the open market. To become what? A second home? More Airbnb accommodation?
That’s why I’m doing all I can to support Tir Cyffredin, both through my job as a Community Led Housing Officer for the Wales Co-operative Centre but also by pledging my own personal support for their loan stock issue. Loan stock is a financial mechanism that allows people to invest in housing co-ops. It is crucially the only way most housing co-ops can build their deposit or make up any shortfall the mortgage won’t cover.
It’s an unsecured loan so there’s a risk attached but all being well the money will be back with me in five years with 3% interest added. In the meantime my money will have helped put a roof over people’s head and given those people better life chances. I know this because I lived in a housing co-op myself for seven years and being there completely changed my life.
Apart from providing me with a safe secure affordable home for seven years it gave me community, a support network, new social and work opportunities. It allowed me the flexibility to take on a major life challenge of cycling across Europe, which transformed my mental and physical health. It gave me space to grow fresh healthy organic food for five people in a beautiful south-facing garden (something I could only dream of before!)
After previously living alone for ten years I gained never-ending company (sometimes a little too never-ending!). Not to mention hundreds of incredible meals lovingly prepared by my housemates (can’t tell you how much they improved my wellbeing!) and of course the countless conversations about so many different subjects that came with those meals. Over the course of seven-years I got to meet hundreds of new people, most importantly the person who is now my fiancée.
Tir Cyffredin Housing Co-operative, Bryn Tyrnol
As a member of a housing co-op I also saw the power we had to change the lives of other people, sometimes just by softening the barriers between the private and the public space. By making our space and resources available to people who didn’t live in the co-op we generated a huge amount of informal learning, skills and capacity building which made life better for lots of people. Quite simple things sometimes like hosting a bike repair workshop, or letting people stay when they needed a temporary home. Sometimes bigger things like being a mutual aid hub during the first lockdown. We took the energy of all of us and sent it outwards.
When you invest in a co-op that is committed to sharing its space and energy you are investing not just in the members but in everyone who comes into contact with that space. As such I am confident that Tir Cyffredin will benefit a much wider community beyond the people who live there. It will provide common ground (the English translation of Tir Cyffredin) upon which other things can grow.
It has already committed to carry on hosting for the next six years the organising hub for the El Sueno Festival. This long-running festival brings artists from across Wales and the world together to celebrate and support positive change. I know they have lots of other plans, all of which will benefit the wider community. If the house is lost to private ownership all this will be lost too. The energy, the possibility, the promise that comes with groups having common purpose.
I grew up watching the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart as frustrated banker George Bailey. One of the high points of the film is the moment George saves the town’s buildings and loan firm by reminding all the deposit holders that their money is tied up with every one of their neighbours, invested in better housing for everyone and the decent chance at life that comes with it. This is the bank of community. A rising tide that lifts all the boats. As George Bailey says ‘we’ve got to stick together, we’ve got to have faith in each other’. Isn’t that what the pandemic has taught us too? That we can each play a part in building back better?
Currently in Wales, there is no public financing available for housing co-operatives, beyond the support our Communities Creating Homes programme gives, and, until that changes it is down to the wider community to step in, bridge the funding gap and unlock the potential. We all benefit from thriving community spaces and having people around that believe in community and are prepared to do something positive about supporting it. I know that the members themselves – Sadie, Ailsa, Gareth, Badger and JoJo - will do this as all of them are involved in community projects already and will only build on that once they know they can live in a secure affordable home.
As an advisor I see how much sweat it takes to create a new housing co-op from scratch. In the case of Tir Cyffredin quite literally as two of the members will give their time for free to help a local builder to create two new bedrooms. If creating homes is a game of snakes and ladders my job is to help groups avoid the snakes and climb the ladders. Most of the hard work is done by the members themselves. For them it’s like having an extra job without a salary, the benefits of which will be enjoyed by others, long after they themselves have left. Some groups never make it home, but Tir Cyffredin have all the possibility of success. The only ladder they need now is you.
Rebel for Life Banner, at Tir Cyffredin housing co-op