The Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH) marked its 30th anniversary on 11 July with an event at Portcullis House in Westminster.
Participants included Dame Pauline Green, former International Cooperative Alliance president and MEP; David Rodgers, former president of the International Cooperative Alliance Housing Sector Organisation; Nic Bliss, former CCH head of policy; and Paula Farrow, former CCH chair.
The event also heard from CCH chair Martyn Holmes and Labour/Co-op MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Renters and Rental Reform – who previously lived in a Radical Routes housing
co-op in Bradford.
If elected, Labour aims to double the co-op economy, including the housing sector, said Russell-Moyle. This, he argued, would require supporting small and medium sized fully mutual housing co-ops. Housing co-ops need protections for when “things go wrong”, he added, and the sector needs to be better understood by the regulator. To this end, Labour/Co-op MPs will continue to make the case for the housing co-ops and push for regulatory changes, he said.
Set up in 1993, CCH represents housing co-operatives, tenant-controlled housing organisations and regional federations of housing co-ops from across the UK. A founding member of CCH, Helen Russell from Two Piers Housing Co-op in Brighton, recalled the federation’s rise from the ashes of the National Federation of Housing Co-operatives (NFHC), which preceded it by a decade.
“This was the time of 1,200 Housing Corporation registered co-ops, many of which had come into being through the generous grant regime of the 1970s and ’80s,” she said. “These co-ops were assisted by a dozen secondaries throughout the UK, which had provided the development expertise and moral support.
“The golden years came to an end with the 1988 Housing Act, as Margaret Thatcher’s housing reforms reversed the financing and removed the rent officer’s role in the grant calculations.”
As a result of these policies, the NFHC closed down, she added. “The reason it bit the dust was ostensibly because of a photocopier lease which if called up would cause insolvency.
“But the real reason, as we all knew, was the decimation of the housing co-operative sector being carried out by the government. Housing co-ops were small fry in the big arena of publicly funded housing associations, but were caught in the tide of privatisation nevertheless.”
Russell was her co-op’s NFHC representative when the Department of the Environment’s housing white paper arrived in 1987 and repealed fair rents.
“My co-op, Two Piers in Brighton, faced the usual challenges in the 1970s, where providing shared homes for young single people was not considered suitable for public funding as random collections of young people were not thought to be house-trained, and likely to put the housing at risk, and hence jeopardise the loan repayments,” she recalled.
But Two Piers won a public inquiry in 1979, which meant Brighton Council had to grant planning permission for shared communal homes. “Two Piers wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and we paved the way for all co-ops developing communal housing,” said Russell.
CCH was born right after the closure of the NFHC through a collective effort led by Two Piers, Clays Lane, Southsea Self-Help, Brockley Tenants, West Hampstead, Homes For Change and Coop Home Services. These organisations formed the steering group and organised conferences, to develop the constitution of the new body, the Confederation of Cooperative Housing. “We arrived on 12 September 1993, and here we are today,” said Russell.
“Co-operativism is more than a social movement, she argued. “The reason it is currently defined as a movement is that the hegemony of capital cannot allow it to exist in any other way.
“Co-operativism as we know it can only be defined in relation to the mainstream business model. In order for our dream to become reality, we must redefine co-operativism as the social contract itself.”
She added: “The social goods of adequate housing, sustainable manufacture, clean air and water, healthcare, literacy, etc, are only identified as such because of their disproportionate distribution. If everyone has what they need to live well, including high-quality housing, the idea of ‘good’ transmutes into a given, a normal standard. The dream is of a co-operative world.
“Weirdly, in order for the dream to come true, everyone everywhere all at once has to wake up. CCH, in its small way, is at the heart of the alarm call, inventing a retrofit consortium model, providing guidance on putting the sustainability goals into practice, supporting co-op tenants in the transition to the post fossil fuel society, and helping us articulate our vision and values through good governance and competent housing management.
“Thirty years is just the start.”
CCH CEO Blase Lambert agreed about the sector’s potential for growth. As to what comes next for the organisation, he said CCH will continue to lobby political parties to ensure housing co-ops are on their agenda ahead of next year’s general election – and will publish its own election manifesto later this year.
The apex is also working on its Four Million Homes programme, a new training package funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, that is open to anyone living in social housing in England.
Another area of focus will be its Housing Retrofit support programme which allows members to access support for their co-ops looking to improve their energy efficiency to combat climate change and reduce the impact the soaring energy costs.
CCH was also successful in its consortium bid for funding through the government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund. More details on its decarbonisation programme will be available soon, said Lambert.
This article was edited to correct an acronym (NFHC). A previous version referred to it as NCHF.