New association will help UK students to set up co-operatives

A new co-operative development body will help UK students to set up co-operative enterprises. The association, called “Students for Co-operation”, will help to create and develop student co-operative...

A co-operative development body will help students to set up their own co-operative enterprises.

The association, Students for Cooperation, will function as a secondary co-operative and will try to establish links between students and the wider co-operative movement.

Sean Farmelo, a 21-year old philosophy student at the University of Birmingham and one of the founding members of the association, is involved in various co-operatives.

Says Sean: “There is a lot of expertise, knowledge and skills, but no purchase of that by the students or universities. There is no way for students to get that knowledge.”

The association will apply for funding for its first two years.  After then, co-ops will have to pay an affiliation fee for joining the association. Sean explains why he was keen on starting student co-ops: “I think co-ops have a lot of saying, the organisation is very open and everyone can get involved in starting it.

“The main reason why I’m doing all this is that the co-op sector is really positive and in order to expand more it needs the people with the right ideas and it needs to have them involved in co-ops in the most formative years of their live.”

Sean says he first thought of starting a co-op while visiting some friends in the US. Seeing how student co-ops provided all sorts of services for students of St Peter's College in LA, he thought of doing the same in Birmingham.

As a customer of Bike Foundry Co-op in Birmingham, he had been in contact with members of the co-op. He asked them for help to set up a student bike co-op. Apart from Bike Foundry, he has also received support and advice from local co-operator and Co-operative Press director Richard Bickle.
Sean and the other founding members of the Green Bike Project received an £8,000 loan from the National Lottery to start up the bike co-op; the shop is due to open this month.

Sean is also a founding member of the first student housing co-op in the UK. The housing co-op secured a £550,000 loan from Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services (BCHS) to purchase the properties, two five-bedroom houses in Selly Oak. These will remain permanently available to student members of the co-operative. The project is currently under development, but Sean said he hopes students will be able to move in their new houses by the beginning of the academic year.

“You need to be quite dedicated if you haven’t done this before. If we had any chance of doing a housing co-op is because we’ve met all these people in the Bike Foundry,” adds Sean.

The 21-year-old believes the best way to get students involved in the co-op movement is through housing co-ops, especially with most students facing high accommodation prices. “Housing co-ops could provide a way for students to learn about co-ops and get involved with them before they graduate”.

He gave the example of Bike Foundry, whose members are all graduates from Birmingham University. Sean argues that students who have already been living in housing co-operatives could have more experience in starting up their own co-op once they graduate.

The student housing co-op received coverage in the media and students from all over the UK have already contacted Sean to ask him for advice on how to set up their own co-ops.

Sean believes students are increasingly interested in co-operative enterprises. In February, a referendum held by Edinburgh University showed that 78 per cent of the students were in favour of creating housing co-ops as academic accommodation. He says that in countries such as Canada and Denmark “there is a huge co-operative economy based around students”.

He adds that the situation is different in the UK since “there is no in-mechanism for students to start a co-op”. Sean thinks co-ops should have explored the student market more, promoting the social advantages of working for co-ops. He believes that by being part of a co-op, students can still get all business skills they need, while making a positive change.

He adds: “This isn’t a project that’s going to happen if it’s not supported by the co-op movement. I’m just a student. I’ve got some ideas, but we need support for funding and it would be good to make contact with people from the co-op movement across the UK.”

With the new co-op development body, Sean hopes more students will be encouraged to join co-operatives. Over the coming months he plans to hold talks in universities boosting students’ confidence to start their own co-operative enterprise.

• For more information follow Students for Cooperation on Twitter or like their Facebook page.

In this article

Join the Conversation