New Housing Co-op in London

A new venture in collective living in North London is about to start, made possible by substantial loans from Co-operative & Community Finance, the Co-operative Loan Fund and the Ecology Building Society.

The Drive Housing Co-op will complete the purchase of a large detached property in Walthamstow on 29 July. The Victorian building, which was formerly a residential care home for children, will become home to 10 people, aged between 30 and 68, with a shared interest in co-operation, sustainability and gardening.

The Drive is a fully mutual housing co-operative. The co-op owns the property and only the tenants can be members of the co-op. Each member has a single £1 share; individual members cannot gain or lose from changes in the value of the property.

The purchase has been financed by loans from Co-operative & Community Finance and the Co-operative Loan Fund, a mortgage from Ecology Building Society, and loans from various individuals and some other housing co-ops.

Co-op member Robert Morris said: “We haven’t received any grants or hand outs. It’s important to us that we pay our own way and that the whole project is self-funding and sustainable.”

This is the first time for many years that Co-operative & Community Finance has lent to a housing co-op. Ian Rothwell from Co-operative & Community Finance said: “Lending to housing co-ops is a bit different to other co-ops. The sums of money are higher but the basic business proposition is simple: the income from rent must exceed the outgoings. As with all co-ops a great deal will depend on the people involved, and I have been very impressed by the commitment and professionalism of the members of The Drive Housing Co-op.”

The people involved in The Drive are not just going to share the premises; they are creating an ‘intentional community’ based on shared values and communal activities. They plan to grow a significant proportion of their own food and buy the rest from local and/or ethical suppliers. They also have a number of plans for reducing their impact on the environment. Education and sharing knowledge is one of their key principles.

The co-op has overcome a number of obstacles to reach this stage as Robert explained: “We had to find the property, apply for loans from Co-operative & Community Finance and Ecology Building Society, negotiate with the estate agents and vendors, apply for planning permission, raise additional loanstock funds, and meanwhile build up a strong group of like-minded people. We’ve had to explain what a housing co-op is and what our project is all about to many people who have no knowledge of housing co-ops.

“Fortunately we’ve got a lot of expertise and experience between us in our group – but we recognise these things could be a lot harder for others, which is one reason why we’d like to help other groups benefit from our experiences.”

The Drive Housing Coop used model rules developed by Radical Routes, a network of housing co-operatives. Members of The Drive also benefitted from the peer support and mutual aid provided by Radical Routes, especially in regard to business planning and legal issues concerning houses in multi-occupation.

Cath Muller of Radical Routes said: “It’s brilliant that The Drive is going ahead. It’s very hard to start a housing co-op in London because the property market is so skewed.

“The members of Radical Routes are always keen to help new co-ops, and I’m pleased to say that after a very difficult time in the market we are expecting there to be several new co-ops managing to secure property by the end of the year.”

John Lee of Ecology Building Society said: “Ecology is delighted to be involved with The Drive alongside our funding partners to help make this project a reality. We regularly provide mortgages to the housing co-operative movement, but this is the first time we have done so in London. Given the continuing problem of rising property prices in the capital, it seems to us that a co-operative approach to property ownership makes economic sense, as well as encouraging a more sustainable, low-impact way of life through sharing.”