The Purpose of Earthworm Housing Coop

Primary and Secondary Rules explained

Roles and Responsibilities of Members

Meeting Structure

Consensus Decision Making

The Current Members

 

Earthworm is a fully mutual housing co-op, which means that all members pay rent, and all members share the decisions about how that rent is spent. This necessitates monthly meetings, and self-motivated holders of positions like treasurer, secretary, rent person, membership contact etc.

 

We will always have an office with co-op computers, printers and stationary budget that everyone is part of managing. If you have no experience in any of this, that’s no problem provided you are prepared to learn, practise, and share what you have learned with others.

 

We are fortunate to currently have a membership skilled in administration and sharing the skills of administration, and we have set up systems that are as user-friendly as possible.

 

No-one is paid for office-hours, but we all find the opportunities and freedoms of living here outweigh the work required to keep it all ticking over.

 

 

The Purpose of Earthworm Housing Coop

The purpose of the co-op is to provide good accommodation for its members.....or as our primary rules say

 

The purpose of the co-op is the construction, conversion, improvement and management on the cooperative principle, of dwellings for occupation by members of the Cooperative...under an agreement to occupy granted to them by the Co-operative...the provision and improvement on the co-operative principle of land or buildings for purposes connected with the requirements of the members occupying the houses provided or managed by the Co-operative’”

 

Primary and Secondary Rules explained

Earthworm Housing Co-operative ltd is registered with the Financial Service Authority (FSA) as an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) existing as a fully mutual Housing Co-operative.

 

In order to operate, the co-op has a set of Primary and Secondary Rules. The Primary Rules set out what the co-op can legally do, and cover things like membership of the co-op, financial policies, management of the co-op, amendment of rules and dissolution.

 

The Primary rules are a generic legal document, and a tried and tested way to ensure people don’t run off with the co-ops assets. Ours were adopted in 1989 and have been amended a few times since. We will amend them again in the next few years, as the “co-op of co-ops”, an organisation called Radical Routes is currently developing new model rules for housing co-ops, which make them even more clear and secure. Any changes to the primary rules can only be done at a general meeting and have to be agreed by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority).

 

The Secondary Rules deal with matters concerning the running of the co-op which are not covered by the Primary Rules and aren’t agreed by the FCA. These are internal and personal to each co-op. Ours deal with decision making, energy and pollution, ethical consumption, agriculture, animals, equal opportunities, membership, visitors, behavioural policy, and transgression of policy procedure. If you enter our membership process you will get a chance to read these and we can explain them more fully.

 

Roles and Responsibilities of Members

We have several official roles in the co-op which we take turns doing. These include Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, Membership Person, Book Keeper, Maintenance Co-ordinator, Renovation Project Manager, Publicity Person, Heating Person, Health and Safety Person, and Rent and Bills Person. Members can take on more than one role and we try to make sure there is always a deputy learning the ropes. In practice we are all good at different things but we hope that over time all members have a go at most things.

 

As a member of the Co-op you are expected to manage the co-op and its assets in an accountable and financially responsible way in line with the Primary and Secondary Rules. We have to make annual returns to the FCA and Her Majesties Revenue and Customs (HMRC). We have to ensure the property we all pay rent for is habitable and complies with all the relevant legislation ('Building Regulations'). We are also responsible for the safety of any visitors we have either paying or otherwise. In practice although this sounds onerous it is liberating to be making the decisions and plans for your home rather than a profit-motivated landlord dictating your life to you, and to be sharing this work and responsibility rather than having it all come down to just you.

 

Meeting Structure

Once a month, there is a general co-op management meeting. This deals with the day to day running of the co-op and has a fixed agenda which is:

 

How we all are,

Achievements,

Finance (inc bills and rent),

Membership,

Maintenance,

Renovation,

Disruption

Events,

Visitors,

Any Other Business.

 

All that usually takes three hours, but sometimes it's quicker!

 

Renovation is the main task just now, so we also have quarterly Renovation Project Meetings  The renovation is the shared project, for the foreseeable future - at least until 2025.

 

All members of the co-op are expected to attend the core co-op meeting, and we need enough of us to be comitted to the renovation project too.  In these meetings all decisions are made through consensus (see Consensus Decision Making below). We have occasional separate meetings to deal with issues which come up and take more time or further information to resolve, such as budgetting, membership and land management. These extra meetings are confined to 2 hours, and a maximum of one a week.  In practice, they are much more seldom than that.

 

Currently some of us get together on Monday mornings too, and informally plan / lift-share / job-share and check in for about half an hour.

 

The only legal requirements of membership are the monthly core meetings and once a year we have our AGM, usually during the summer.  It's normally in the pub, lasts half an hour, then we got on with our chips!

 

Consensus Decision Making

Being a fully mutual housing co-op means that all members pay rent, and all members share the decisions on how that rent is spent. We also share decisions about the inter-relation of our private and business spaces, the calendar of events (gatherings, courses, parties and work-weeks) and how we share the work of running the co-op. We make these decisions in working groups and by consensus, two methods which require practice, trust and a solid grounding of shared aims. Don't worry if you have never done this before – it's a lot more obvious and easy than it sounds, once you're actually doing it.

 

For more information on the process of consensus, see http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/free/consensus

The patterns and processes for our meetings are designed to make it as easy as possible to share power, while capitalising on the particular strengths and expertises that some individuals bring. Normally, people don't share power over their accommodation – they either adhere to someone else's rules, or are simply rules unto themselves. None of us could afford the influence we have over these land and buildings, if we were just living, buying or renting as individuals.

 

 

 

The Current Members

 

All co-ops - all groups - are made of individuals but we are particularly diverse. 

Our ages range between 30 and 60 years, our origins include Germany, Scotland and Ireland as well as England. Currently four are parents, two are teachers, four work locally, two work in other cities and even other countries sometimes. Some are vegan, some like to eat meat, and some don't mind. Different dietary preferences share kitchens harmoniously through good clear communication and spacious storage. 

 

We have two dogs and 4 chickens.  Some of us spend a lot of time with animals, some of us are allergic and totally avoid them.  Some make food-based livlihoods, while others have more of an administrative skill-set.  Some have lots of experience of land management, some none at all.  We had not much and pretty simple DIY skills when we arrived, but we've all upped our skill levels, some to a professional standard.

 

We'll add more to this part of the website when we agree on the level of exposure we're all happy with; how private a person we each are also varies widely between us!