It’s not the usual student experience to gain valuable new life skills simply through sharing a house with other students. But that’s been my experience – thanks to living in a student housing co-op. And it’s one I’m more than pleased with.
I’m a 22-year-old Computer Systems Engineering student at the University of Birmingham. Like the rest of the students in my housing co-op, I’m responsible for the upkeep and running of the house. And it’s a responsibility that’s inspired me to care about the environment I live in.
It’s up to us
Housing co-ops are not-for-profit homes that students manage and maintain themselves. There are no landlords and everyone works together for mutual benefit. They are more affordable than private rented homes – which can reduce the financial pressure on students and make higher education accessible to more people.
Today’s students in higher education face increasing pressure, debt and mental health challenges. Student housing co-ops are a solution that can break the cycle of high-cost, poor-quality private rents that drive up debt and exacerbate poor health.
I’ve learned a lot of new skills through necessity, but also through a personal desire to improve the house. I was expecting to do DIY – it’s expected of incoming tenants. But I didn’t expect to learn so much. And I didn’t expect to want to improve the house. I didn’t feel that way in private rented student accommodation. But I do here because it makes it better for everyone.
The amount of DIY, admin and finance knowledge I’ve learned here is amazing. I can reasonably do most simple DIY with no sweat now. It’s something I’m really happy about. And they’re skills I can use for my own quality of life further down the line, and to offer to other people.
The sense of community I feel in the housing co-op positively impacts my life too. From a mental health perspective – being connected to other people, socialising and communicating with them, they’ve become part of my support network. I’ve made a lot of really close friends through this house. I’d need a couple more hands to count them all on.
Living in a student co-op house is great for your self-motivation, and for reaching out and involving yourself with other people. For example, if we have work to do on the house, we can invite friends to come over and help. There are a couple of other housing co-ops in this street – with former students who used to live here, so it’s easy to get people involved.
We also have a projector in the living room and can offer the space to other people, almost as an event space. There have been activist meetings. And the Birmingham Bike Foundry – a local bike repair co-op – did a presentation here.
As well as my skills and social life – my health benefits from co-op living. I sometimes struggle with appetite because of my medication, so having regular house meals together means I’m eating properly. And I feel like I cook better when I cook for other people, so I eat and cook more healthily.
Now I’m trying to help other students into co-operative living. There are so many bonuses. The sense of community is really helpful. I’ve met so many people, it’s been a boom.
A workable model
There are currently three student housing co-ops successfully operating in the UK – here in Birmingham, as well as Edinburgh and Sheffield. Others have been set up in Glasgow, Nottingham and Brighton but are struggling to buy property in a fiercely competitive market.
National body, Student Co-op Homes is launching a community share offer to raise up to £2 million from investors so it can buy properties and lease them to the student housing co-ops in Glasgow, Brighton and Nottingham at affordable rates. It is SCH’s ambition is to increase the number of beds offered in student housing co-ops from 120 to 10,000.
Student Co-op Homes is a UK-wide body that was set up to support the creation of more student housing co-ops and grow this ethical housing market. We are urging people and organisations to invest in our share offer so we can raise vital funds to break the cycle of poor-quality, high-cost student rents and vastly improve the lives of young people in higher education.
The more we raise, the more properties we can buy – and the more students will benefit from living in student housing co-ops that give them valuable life skills, better physical and mental health, less debt and a better start to their working lives. Co-op housing provides the conditions to nurture new generations of resilient, healthy graduates who can enter the workforce and shape society from a stronger position.