Every member has to pay rent and help manage the co-op. At monthly co-op management meetings, we agree on the work priorities, and everyone commits to particular jobs. When the refurbishment process is over, we reckon that over the year, the work commitment will work out as 3 hours a week.

 

Just now though, we are in the middle of a huge and complex renovation, and most of us work more like 3 days a week on the co-op.  Those of us prioritising the co-op renovation have a weekly planning meeting, as well as the monthly core-co-op meeting, and a second monthly meetng called "Renovation Project Meeting" which is all about the renovation and related issues of planning permission, budgetting, building regs etc.

 

The jobs we share are really diverse, including the carpentry, electrics and plumbing you would expect from a property management company, but we also share sit down jobs like accounting, publicity, selling things on amazon and e-bay, arranging events and ringing round for quotes.

 

The Renovation Story so far

 

In 2011 some of the current members moved in to a leaky, drafty, woodwormy building with dodgy electrics, no working plumbing (beyond just one working tap, in three buildings) and a history of neglect, pretty much ever since it was completed in 1912.  The building had no mortgage though - the co-op which were all suddenly members of, owned it outright.  We all started paying in rents and turning that money into emergency solutions and long term plans. 

 

By 2014 we had taken out a £260,000 mortgage with a bank that is sympathetic to co-ops.  We'd also got £40,000 of 'loan-stock' from our friends and supporters, and we'd begun turning some of this money into rooms and systems that are more comfortable, sustainable and efficient.

 

We were just a bit too slow to win big from the era of "free insulation grants" in the British Isles, but we have used the government's "Renewable Heating Incentive" scheme to turn our heat-sources from several small burners into one magnificent burner/boiler called Angus who sits in front of an even bigger heat-store water tank, from which our 40+ radiators are heated.

 

We've gone from a system of burning 4-5 wheelbarrows of wood a day, which heated just a few rooms, to a system where up to 2 wheelbarrows of wood per day heats three whole buildings, and gives us hot water.  The rise in efficiency sometimes feels like magic, not science!  The new burner produces just a tiny amount of ash which travels only a few metres to be part of the compost system in the kitchen garden.

 

Our various insulation measures include the fluffy sorts in floors and attics, the fibrous sort in some floors, attics and walls, and lots of the polisocyanurate rigid thermal insulation, in the insides of extrernal walls.  We plan to use some sort of external insulation when we tackle our smallest building "the Lodge".

 

Lots of photos of our renovation can be found here on our 'flickr' photo-website.

 

The decisions we've made and those that are still fluid, will slowly firm up into reality over the next couple of years.  Some of these decisions await new members who will have to live with them, but loads has already been done.  In terms of timescale, the business plan we wrote to win our mortgage has proved an optmistic work of fiction, but this isn't a financial problem, as we haven't spend as much as we thought we would, as quickly as we thought we would.  Our skill levels grow and shift with new members, volunteers and time, but we don't know when we'll be finished.

 

The only method for paying off the mortgage is the rent we all pay.  Some members have more or less work outside the co-op, some have inheritance and some claim housing benefit.

 

Together we make short-term plans and new long-term guesses about how long particular phases will last, depending on how much time some of us can give it.


As a group the current membership is good at being explicit about what's required, and what's voluntary, and how that changes as people's needs and circumstance change. We didn't all know each other before we came here, but now we're friends as well as co-residents, and co-managers.

 

The process of our regular meetings is described in detail in How we self-organise”, which you can find by hovering over the "what we offer" button in the menu above.

 

Gardening

 

The garden work is totally separate from the work of running and evolving the co-op, but sometimes a meeting - for the interested members - about growing, composting and other land-management makes sense.  More co-op focused, special meetings about things like budget-setting, choosing contractors or recruitment policy come in at a maximum of one per week and 2-hours long.

 

All meetings are voluntary, so meeting-time doesn't count as part of the 3-hours a week co-op work-commitment, and neither does cooking or washing up! There are some grey areas like harvesting and processing firewood, (Some of that is work-for-yourself, like doing your own chores, some is for the benefit of the whole co-op), but we try to be very clear about choice, and our demands of each other, so that the grey areas don't lead to resentment.

 

When we have more members, it might become quite easy to properly formalise how wood processing works, and we are in the process of setting up a separate bank account just to make the heating-payment process fairer and easier.

 

Although meetings are voluntary, they wouldn't work well enough if people didn't pay them any attention at all, so we do expect each other to read the meetings of minutes they have missed and to join in with the conversations and discussions that they care about. These discussions tend to be about such obvious and practical things, that they are rarely confined to “meeting time”.

 

At the moment, how we organise those “3 hours per member per week” is a long way off looking “systematic”, but the system that we can envisage for a future when we really do have 12-15 adult members, might look like this:

 

From the co-op membership, we need to organise 12 physical days per year (which works out as 2 hours per week) for building maintenance, plus 8 days (1.5 hours per week) for the wetland and boundaries and 6 days (1 hour per week) of managing wood for the heating.

 

The un-physical work of accounting, organising things on the phone, buying and selling stuff for the co-op and talking to new members is harder to quantify, but we're confident that we'll spot the gap and discuss the shortfall, if it doen't seem to be working fairly.

 

Work commitment can be carefully and consciously organised to allow for those whose bodies can’t do physical labour through illness, disability, age or child birth, however people in those positions will be expected to do what they can, for example making many cups of tea on work-days, or perhaps extra office tasks like selling some of our co-op inheritance on e-bay or at car boot sales!

 

These work days don't have to be done in whole days – just 2 hours a week, amounts to the same as the '12 eight-hour days per year. Some tasks lend themselves to a “work day”, when everyone concentrates together on a job, and some are more suited to one person getting on with something flexibly, fitting it around their other work, caring commitments, chores, fun etc.

 

If you are rich or busy working you may be able to pay your way out of the building and land maintenance work commitment at the rate of up to £100 per day (This could cost you over £2,000 per year!) There is a sliding scale of pay-out though. The pay-out clause is a safety measure, so that if no-one wants to do a particular job, we can use these funds to pay a professional. However if you miss a work day as we said above you can make this up any time...you don’t have to pay if you miss a day.