Student co-operators met at the University of Edinburgh for the annual Students for Co-operation conference from 31 October – 2 November. They discussed issues such as liberation and creating safe spaces through housing co-operatives – and also took a walking tour of the city, with visits to local co-operatives.
The walking tour included seven co-ops located within less than 30 minutes walking distance from each other. Among these was the recently opened Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative, a 106-bed property managed entirely by its tenants. The co-op is the city’s most affordable housing provider for students, who pay £305 per month, with all bills included.
Laura Barluzzi, a member of the housing co-op, said: “The co-operative is really building my self-esteem and confidence. By sharing responsibility for tasks and the work that needs to be done, I’m learning so much – practical skills like accounting – but also for the first time I’m having to work constructively as part of a community.
“Consensus decision-making is teaching me to be much more considerate and open to other’s opinions. When I moved to Edinburgh in September I was alone and homesick. The co-op has given me a home, 105 flatmates, and such a brilliant network of friends.”
The housing co-operative has 24 flats across two buildings, separated by a pub. Through regular general meetings and working groups, every member has a direct role in managing the co-op.
Vanessa Hanschke, another member, added: “There’s such a spirit of community here. It’s often the little things – people in the stairwells always greet one another. We’re all in the same boat. We help each other out and get to know one another through working together to run our massive home. Collectively there is so much energy, and such a pool of ideas for tackling problems.”
Another successful student-led co-operative initiative is the Swap and Re-use Hub – SHRUB – which was officially set up in 2013. Before this, Edinburgh students had been swapping objects since 2008 through a free shop. The one-off freshers’ week event was expanded into a permanent feature in 2013 by establishing the co-operative.
SHRUB runs a free shop – with some items for sale – with volunteers playing a crucial role in the project. They are rewarded with discounted membership fees and swap tokens, which they can use in the shop.
The co-operative is open to students and non-students – the former making up at least 75% of members – with membership costing £10 a year.
Mike Shaw, coordinator at Students for Co-operation, explains how the student co-ops movement started in Edinburgh.
“Student co-ops in Edinburgh Uni properly began in 2008, when a food co-op (now called the Hearty Squirrel) was started by the People & Planet society – though there had been discussion of starting a housing co-op in 2005,” he said.
The Hearty Squirrel Food Co-operative is now a student and volunteer-run food co-op selling dry wholefoods to students and staff. Located in the basement of a lecture theatre, the co-op provides healthy, local, ethical, organic and Fairtrade food at affordable prices. Members can also order goods in bulks from the co-operative wholefoods wholesaler Greencity Wholefoods.
While the co-operative enterprise model enables students across Edinburgh to provide better services for themselves, it also empowers them by giving them the chance to organise together.
“Co-operatives are not just about trying to alleviate student poverty through more affordable housing or food,” added Mike. “It’s about empowerment. People realising their collective strength, teaching one another how to organise more equitably and democratically, and ultimately providing a glimpse of what a better world might look like.”
In this article
- co-operative wholefoods wholesaler
- Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative
- Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative
- food co-op
- Greencity Wholefoods
- Hearty Squirrel Food Co-operative
- Housing cooperative
- Laura Barluzzi
- Leaf Co-operative
- Lister Housing Co-operative
- Mike Shaw
- People & Planet
- Vanessa Hanschke
- United Kingdom
- Top Stories