Over the last few years the UK has seen a rise in community co-operatives. These are groups organised at a local level, many of which have been set up to rescue shops, pubs and other local amenities. Rural Herefordshire has seen many village shops saved through this form of community organisation.
On the northern edge of the ‘shire, in Leintwardine, is a long established Earthworm Housing Co-operative. As with other community co-operatives, a housing co-op is a non-hierarchical grass roots association governed by its members. In this case it is run in order for people to take control of where and how they live. The basic idea being that a group of like-minded people get together and buy a property. Something that has become a more viable alternative as the capitalist system begins to grind to a halt.
The Earthworm Housing Co-op traces its routes back to the early 70s when a group of people bought Wheatstone House in Leintwardine and set up a commune. In the late 80s the commune became a housing co-op. Jed Picksley from Earthworm explained that “we are a fully mutual housing co-op. Every member pays rent, and we share the decisions about how that rent is spent. Our meetings run by consensus, and for the next few years it’s all about renovating buildings and improving accommodation.”
Wheatstone House has a variety of buildings, including the house, stables and workshop, plus seven acres of land with a kitchen garden and orchard. Jed told us that ”It’s not a ‘commune-style’ housing co-op where everyone shares one bathrom and kitchen – we now have two of each. We’re currently seeking new members to help us create and then occupy two more independent living spaces within the big house; flats basically. The house is so big, we hope to create classroom/workshop space for short courses too.”
We are aware that all this talk of communal living could conjore up images of hippy communes, but housing co-ops are far more than that. The lack of housing and access to housing along with the Tory ideal that a home is a luxury make a co-op a real option.
On 29–30th June Wheatstone House and gardens will be open to the public as part of Open Gardens. Earthworm are inviting anyone who may be interested in getting involved to come along, but warn that “this is an administrative, practical and cooperative challenge and not some idilic Good Life”.
For more info on setting up a Housing Co-op visit Radical Routes