With 106 members, Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative Ltd (ESHC) is the largest student housing co-operative in the UK. We are members of Students for Cooperation and work closely Birmingham Student Housing Co-operative and Sheffield Student Housing Co-operative currently the only other student housing co-ops in the UK.
First opening our doors in the summer of 2014, it was a massive achievement and one that took more than a year of work in preparation. We have been incredibly lucky to turn Wright’s Houses into our new home. Although new to the UK, the student housing co-operative model is a popular one in North America and in countries around the world. It creates an opportunity for students to take control over their living, learn new skills, and live in an open and vibrant community.
We wanted to establish autonomous, student-owned and -run housing co-operatives. We were fed up with extortionate rent, exploitative landlords, dodgy letting agencies, and substandard housing. We wanted to increase the amount of affordable housing for students and create a sustainable, non-exploitative, community-led housing co-operative as an alternative to the private rental market.
What is a Co-operative?
A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common, economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise.
ESHC is run democratically and directly by its members. Only members of the co-op can be tenants, and all tenants must be members.
All cooperatives generally adhere to the Rochdale Principles, a set of seven ideals that guide co-ops all over the world:
- Voluntary and Open Membership
- Democratic Member Control
- Member Economic Participation
- Autonomy and Independence
- Education, Training and Information
- Co-operation among Co-operatives
- Concern for Community
Uniquely, this puts students back in charge of our homes—saving us money and building more vibrant communities to live in.
Besides ESHC, there are currently only two other student housing co-op operating in the UK, the Birmingham Student Housing Cooperative, which also opened in 2014 and houses nine members, and Sheffield Student Housing Co-operative which opened in 2015. Happily, there are several other groups of students around the country working with Students for Cooperation and ourselves to start student co-ops, including housing co-ops.
Housing co-ops are only one kind of co-operative, and there are dozens of different student co-operatives across the UK. At Edinburgh University, students run a successful food co-op called the Hearty Squirrel and a cooperative with its own premises for reducing waste and reusing consumer products, called the SHRUB. We’ve been working with these and other co-ops on joint projects.