Bristol Student Housing Co-operative was born out of the Cut the Rent movement at the University of Bristol. Activists from the group, who had begun their work pushing for more affordable beds in University halls, turned their attention to the private sector and the crisis of affordability there. The group formed informally and began to make connections with other student housing co-operatives, most notably the SEASALT co-operative in Brighton, Student Co-operative Homes, as well as local housing organisations including the Bristol Community Land Trust, Community Led Homes West, and Bristol and Bath Regional Capital.
Activists from the informal co-operative interest group passed a motion at Bristol Student Union’s Annual Members Meeting in February 2020 mandating the Student Union to support the set-up of a student housing co-operative. The pandemic hit which made growth and activity difficult for a number of months, but activity began again over the Summer of 2020.
In October 2020, we secured a grant from Community Led Homes West (CLH), equivalent to 10 days’ staff support, to help us prepare a suite of first draft documents to enable us to be ready to put ourselves forward to investors and run a house. CLH are experts in community led housing who have experience of working with co-operatives and supporting projects such as ours. They helped us to create a business plan, speculative financial plan and a risk register.
In November 2020, we became a legally registered entity - a co-operative society - with the Financial Conduct Authority. We have opened a bank account with Bristol Credit Union to store our share capital and are looking into setting up a current account with The Co-operative Bank. Over the course of our operation, we have formed incredibly important partnerships with both the University of Bristol and Bristol Students’ Union. In November 2020, we ran a 3-week series of events and panels in conjunction with Bristol SU to introduce students and the community to our work and grow the organising base of our co-operative. This included a very well received panel on the history and purpose of co-operatives and a fantastic ‘virtual tour’ of Bristol based co-operative Co-Housing Bristol’s property at Lower Knowle Farm.
Between July 2020 and April 2021, we met regularly with the University of Bristol’s Chief Operating Officer, Director of Campus Operations, and Bristol SU’s Chief Executive and Student Living Officer, to discuss how the University of Bristol could support the co-operative to find its first home. They offered us a 30 bed building that could become our new home on a 10 year fully repairing and insuring lease. This building would have required extensive maintenance over the course of the lease so in November 2021, we commissioned Rider Levett Bucknall to survey the University building. The survey found that the building was not currently in a state that was fit for habitation and required £90,000 worth of urgent works on top of the longer-term maintenance that was required. Talks broke down with the University of Bristol, who decided to keep their building as a student hall.
We re-launched the co-operative in October 2022 and are looking into new options for securing our first home - researching the viability of taking on a mortgage, and contacting local housing associations, landlords and Bristol City Council to see if we can take on a lease from them. As of November 2023, we have 22 current members who all have a £1 share in the co-operative.
(This history is taken almost entirely from our draft business plan.)