Before visiting Fireside Housing Co-op, I was hesitant about the idea of shared communal living. Now, I’m sold!
Fireside housing co-op is a collective of a 4 common terraced 2 up 2 down style houses. To the front, they look like any other house on the street, albeit for the collection of Solar panels adorning the roofscape. Every 2 houses are separated by an alleyway that Fireside has adapted to become an internal corridor, leading to the mainly used doors of the adjoining terraces. The corridor is surprisingly warm, this is apparently due to the heat loss of the houses. Entering no. 57 Melrose Road, you are welcomed to a light, partially double height kitchen and dining space. Here I greeted Rick, one of the 12/12 residents of the co-op. We head out to the garden to start the tour/interview. The garden is beautifully alive with a rich diverse mix of plants, shrubs, trees, natural pathways and a central grass area. Linda, Ricks partner holds a basket of laundry while hanging laundry onto a rotary airer. We look back at the house(s), the white, 2 story extension is surprisingly shorter than imagined. Rick describes how the original kitchen was extremely small and shows me an example of the mono pitched kitchen of the neighbouring properties. Back within the house, Rick takes me through the rest of the house starting with the front room. A collection of herb planters adorn the window cill, to utilise the south facing aspect. Up stairs, the front room is Rick and Linda’s office. At the top of the landing we approach the doorway into the other house. It is wide-open and held by a door stopper. The corridor linking the two houses through this corridor shows the mirrored plans of the houses, both of which end with additional staircases leading to the 2nd floor bedroom. We couldn’t enter the private bedrooms of the other residents, all of which apparently took advantage of the additional space of the 2nd storey rear extension, turning them from small single bedrooms to potentially double bedrooms. Rick and Linda’s bedroom is interestingly through this doorway and the first front bedroom to the left. So although they technically, according to paperwork live at 55, they only sleep there and in fact use the kitchen, dining and receive mail at 57. The connection points in the other houses differ, making the whole building(s) sort of a maze-like house. However, this isn’t a problem as you get used to it relatively quickly and makes for a drastically larger internal space even though all that connects are a couple of doors and missing wall.
Fireside is a fully mutual co-op.
A housing co-op is, on one level, a group of people who have control over their own housing, without actually owning it personally. The legal structure, technically an Industrial and Provident Society, can be thought of as a separate person, who owns the property, takes out mortgages, and to whom the tenants pay rent. This separate person, however, only does what the members of the co-op tell it to!A housing co-op is very similar to a housing association, but it is managed (either entirely, or mainly) by its tenants. If it is ‘Fully Mutual’ only tenants or prospective tenants are allowed to be ‘members’ and control/manage its affairs. (Our Rules are for fully mutual co-ops), Housing Co-ops, like all other Industrial & Provident Societies, are registered with the Registrar of Friendly Societies at the Financial Services Authority (FSA).Once registered, the co-op can lease or buy properties, and then rent them, either wholly or as flats/bedsits/rooms, to its members – who pay rent to the co-op, which is their landlord. So, by registering a co-op, we create our own landlord, created for our benefit, with us, as members, collectively making all the decisions that need to be made – what property to buy, what rent to charge, whether to allow Jo Smith to join, what colour to paint our rooms, whether to install low-energy lightbulbs or water filters, etc. Co-ops allow us to reclaim aspects of our lives and distance ourselves from some of the hierarchical structures of society, without having to take part in the “home owner, this is mine, consumer” debacle. And they encourage greater co-operation with each other as tenants.
To be continued.