Co-operative housing in Wales – the story so far
Over the coming months we’re putting the spotlight on the work that we do at the Wales Co-operative Centre on co-operative and community-led housing. Through a series of blog posts, tweets and videos, we’ll profile the ‘story so far’ of co-op housing in Wales, and what the future could hold.
See this page in: Cymraeg
We kick things off with Casey Edwards, Co-operative Housing Project Advisor, who takes us through a journey that has quite literally changed the landscape in a number of Welsh communities…
How did co-op housing get started in Wales, and what was the initial reaction to the concept?
In 2012, Huw Lewis, the then Minister for Housing, Regeneration & Heritage announced that he wanted to see homes built in Wales using a co-operative framework. From there, the Wales Co-operative Housing Project was born, managed by the Wales Co-operative Centre, and funded by the Welsh Government and Nationwide Foundation. Over the past 6 years, the Wales Co-operative Centre has helped organisations and communities in Wales to develop 137 co-operative homes and communities.
What were the early signs that co-op housing would work in Wales?
In 2013, the Wales Co-operative Centre commissioned research to be carried out into the potential demand for co-operative housing, undertaken by the Confederation of Co-operative Housing and the Chartered Institute for Housing Cymru. Research was conducted in three areas – Cardiff, Carmarthen and Newport – as co-operative housing schemes in those areas, being supported by the Centre, were the most advanced. Surveys, interviews and workshops were carried out with the general public and employees of key agencies supporting the developments.
There was an overwhelmingly positive response in favour of developing more co-operative housing because of the community focus, autonomy and affordability. It was also recognised that co-operative housing can provide greater security, better communal facilities with many having a greater concern for the environment.
What have been the main successes of the Wales Co-operative Housing Project so far?
- Helped develop 137 co-operative homes in 6 different local authority areas (2 of the schemes that have been supported have won awards)
- Supported existing co-operative and community-led schemes across the country
- Upskilled more than 250 people on how to successfully run a housing co-op
- Identified co-operative/community-led housing champions across the housing sector
- Developed an online toolkit
- Helped local authorities develop policies and resources to grow and support the demand for co-operative and community-led housing.
What we can learn from the work that’s already been done on co-op housing in Wales?
Co-operative and community-led housing can be for everyone, but not everybody is aware of the possibilities, potential or options. People usually have 3 options when considering their housing – own, privately rent or rent with a social landlord/local authority – and for many, unfortunately there is no choice. The thought of developing your own home/community with a group of like-minded people may seem like a distant dream for many, but it can be done!
"Community-led housing is about empowering people to have a voice and control over solving local housing problems"
We’re now hearing about community-led housing. How does that differ from co-op housing?
Community-led housing is exactly what it says on the tin – the community leads the development of homes and communities. Community-led housing is about empowering people to have a voice and control over solving local housing problems. It can involve building new homes, returning empty homes back to use and managing existing homes, covering all tenures.
The beauty of co-operative and community-led housing is that it is a highly localised way for communities, registered social landlords and local authorities to develop bespoke solutions that meet their needs; creating affordable, cohesive and resilient communities. No two schemes are the same, and there are several different models of community-led housing, which includes housing co-operatives, community-land trusts, tenant management organisations, cohousing and self-build schemes.Although all models develop differently, they all have common features, including:
- The community takes a formal role in the ownership, stewardship and management of the home.
- The housing scheme benefits the local community/a defined group.
- The community has to be integrally involved in decision making
What are you hoping will happen next in co-op and community-led housing in Wales?
I want to see co-operative and community-led housing as an option for the many not the few (said in my best politicians’ voice). Traditionally, in Wales, we have been a nation of homeowners, but this is now a luxury that the majority of the population struggle to afford, especially us from ‘generation rent’. But with such strain on the social and private rented sector, I feel it is now a perfect opportunity to be exploring different approaches, including the co-operative and community-led housing models.
Such models can complement more traditional means of building houses, but they place a greater emphasis on empowering people to develop communities and homes that meet their needs. The housing problems that we face in Wales, and the UK, cannot be solved overnight, but by developing genuinely affordable homes, for those in need that people want, is a start to building more resilient, cohesive communities.