Musings on living in a housing co-operative
After writing this yesterday about helpful mindsets when applying to live in a housing co-op I thought I’d update it with a few quick thoughts about helpful mindsets when actually living in one. This’ll be a quickie – I need to go and chair our weekly co-op meeting very shortly!
It can take a while for decisions to be made; it can take a while for fellow communards to come around to your point of view. It can take a while for things to get done. This is good: you learn negotiating skills, you learn non-attachment.
You might have an idea about how something should be done. But someone might have a better idea. It isn’t about winning in a co-operative – it’s about getting the best result for everyone. Don’t lose sight of the goal because you have too much attachment to your particular means of getting there.
Also, sometimes you might have yourself set on doing a particular task and suddenly you get overtaken by another one – a community member might ask you to move some furniture, help them unblock a sewage pump or (heaven forbid) plan a wedding. You can always say no – but it really does help if a lot of the time you can say yes.
Willingness to learn
I am one of those people who, when they are nervous or unsure, try to show that they are capable by communicating how much they know about a situation. Sometimes this unwittingly comes across a bit know-all-y or splain-y (I’m using this as a cut-off of mansplainy but obviously I am not a man, so…). But this doesn’t mean that I actually do think I know more than someone else or that I am not really bothered about learning new things – in fact, I am happiest when I am devouring new information or skills. It’s more that I’m trying to show that I’m interested in the subject. It’s good to approach living in a co-op with a kind of humility – even if you’ve lived in community before each one will be different, and you will learn new things, not least about human nature and especially about yourself. There’ll be people at the co-op who have been doing this a lot longer than you – it’s a good idea to show them some respect! And often, there are several ways to skin a cat, so be open to others’ views.
Willingness to listen
And this doesn’t just mean hearing. Sometimes someone will react badly to a suggestion. You might get angry at their reaction but it helps to have a kind of attitude of sitting back and watching and listening – we all have our little weird psychological triggers and if you can get into the habit of instead of thinking “so-and-so is being a dick right now” deciding to think “so-and-so seems weirdly angry about this – I wonder what’s up with them and how I can find that out without upsetting them even more” your people skills will power up close to final boss level*.
Awareness of others’ boundaries
When I moved in I checked really carefully with the people in the rooms next to mine – whether they could hear my music, hear me watching a film. I checked if it was okay to use this room at this time, eat this food, weed this bed, light this fire. It’s better to ask than assume – feel out those delicate invisible boundaries, don’t stomp all over people’s heads, and try and make sure that most of the ripples you cause by moving in are positive ones. It’s basic respect, isn’t it?
That’s pretty much it for now. Will add to this if I think of anything else.
*I am not a gamer and haven’t played anything since Super Mario Bros on the original gameboy. I am just trying to be down with the kids here. It’s pathetic isn’t it.
IDK why I’m using this pic of an open day we hosted here. It’s nice & there’s a school steel band – what more do you want?
Further musings on living in a housing co-op
I’ve written a series of blog posts about living in Beech Hill Community Co-operative & you can find the other ones here. Today I’m thinking about the kind of outlook I think it helps to have when applying to join, and living in, a co-op.
“What’s in it for me” doesn’t get you in it
Well, it is important that you benefit from living in a co-op. You shouldn’t need to make profound personal sacrifices to join. But once you’ve decided that you’re interested in living in a community, I’d suggest thinking along the lines of what you have to offer them, rather than the other way around. You can find out the cost of the rent, the kind of work expected of you and the facilities that exist onsite with an attitude of seeing whether a place is a good fit for you and your needs. It’s probably a bad idea to rock up to a co-op and say, “I’m just looking to see what you have to offer.” (it has happened).
For example, when I was looking at co-ops I visited a place where they didn’t have much land to grow veg, and seemed to have a lot of conflict, and I figured that both of these factors didn’t fit with me. When I visited Beech Hill they had a lot of space for growing and also they all seemed to get on really well, and so once I’d decided that we were a pretty good match I wrote them an email listing what I could do and also what I wasn’t so good at.
A lot of what you get from living in community is what you bring to it. Bear in mind that there is always a lot of work to be done, so list any practical skills you have, talk honestly about how much time you’d be able to commit to working, and how you’d make your money in the outside world. Rent is often cheap in co-ops, allowing members to work part-time and also meet the co-op’s work commitments. Here’s a post listing some of the work I’ve done here.
It’s a family affair
It’s worth realising very early on that what you are doing is moving into what is in essence a large family home. Make an effort to get to know the members, be honest about yourself, and realise that you and them both have to get something out of your moving in. In a small community often there is an issue with the balance of members being older, so younger members are always welcomed. A small community will need energy and skills and enthusiasm.
Ask ask ask ask
A lot of fuss and bother can be saved by asking questions about anything you feel you couldn’t live with. We recently had one person who was interested in joining coming to stay from overseas, and they asked about the meals. “They are all vegetarian, mostly vegan or with a vegan option as there are 6 vegans living here now, and often gluten-free too. You are welcome to cook meat in the other kitchen or in your own space. You sign up to cook once a week or fortnight,” I replied. This person looked horrified at the thought of having to cook vegan food and I think it put them off. If they had asked in an email about this they could have saved themself an airfare.
If you’re thinking of moving from outside the UK, bear in mind that most communities will want to meet and spend quite a lot of time with you before agreeing that you can move in – and all community members will likely want a say in this decision. As I said, you’re likely moving into a family space. If you’re coming from abroad this could get very expensive. It’s worth asking about the joining process before you consider a place. It is probably wise to check out whether you are able to move to the UK right at the start – our immigration policy is becoming tighter and tighter and the horror that is Brexit is looming. It would be terrible to spend time and money visiting and moving to a place only to be chucked out again by the Home Office.
Honesty is always the best policy
If you’re a bit of a loner who needs a lot of peace and quiet, mention it. If you have seventeen cats, mention it. If you’re planning to be away for three months a year, mention it. Be honest about what you think you’ll cope well with and what you think you’ll struggle with.
“Have you thought of…”
Communities always get people turning up who have a really good idea about how they think a community should be run. Sometimes there are wondrous ideas but mostly it’s pretty tiresome. If you go in with the attitude of learning why things are done a certain way in your particular community before suggesting fabulous adjustments your ideas are more likely to be heard. Go in with the desire to learn. Yes, I still think Beech Hill’s accounting system needs to be completely overhauled and started again from scratch. But we work by consensus here, and I’d need to find a way to convince the other members of the accounting team that it would be of material benefit. And to be honest, I’m generally too busy cleaning out jammed sewage pumps.
In it for the money
Some people want to move to a co-op because they are skint and it’s cheaper to live here, or they are having a difficult time and need some respite, or they’d like a nice relaxing place to live out their retirement and be looked after in their old age. None of these is a reason to join a co-op without a profound desire to live communally and do the work needed. Community living can be frustrating and it can be hard physical and emotional labour. (It can be bloody wonderful too though). I’ll admit that I had had a difficult time of it in the few years before I moved – a few deaths in the family and related upheavals meant I was exhausted and did need somewhere to regroup. But I had always been interested in co-op living, had a desire to set one up for myself and was really looking forward to throwing myself into the work here. Community members can smell when someone really isn’t after co-operative living and there’s just no point trying to fake it.
This isn’t to say that I believe housing situation in this country is acceptable. It isn’t to say that I think the options for older people’s accommodation are perfect. It’s possible to acknowledge this situation and also be very aware that we are one little community of (currently) eight members working very hard to keep a rambling old 16th Century manor house upright and six acres reasonably productive of veg, and we physically aren’t able to cope if more than a few of us aren’t able to work. This is sad and it pains me but there it is.