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We’re back on site

Co-operative housing isn’t new. You’d need to  go all the way back to the mid 19th century and  the Rochdale Pioneers if you wanted to uncover the movement’s earliest roots. But regardless of how novel the idea might be to some, in the turning chaos of 21st century living, affordable, environmentally sustainable, and democratic alternatives are very much needed. 

So when, after the better part of a decade of planning, work started in June 2023 on the Stirchley Co-operative Development with Tricas as lead contractor, an almost audible sigh of relief could be heard whistling its way down the high street. “We’re living through difficult times which is a direct result of failing systems that glorify individualism” says SCD chair and  member of Birmingham Bike Foundry Matthew Cox.

There have been doubters; people for whom the concept appears too radical to succeed. But for the most part people in the community have either fully welcomed the construction, or have at the very least been open to listen to why such a project is vital for community regeneration and growth within the area.  

You may have noticed that since January (2024) work on the site has come to a standstill. Only the big yellow crane seeming to shift and swing its arm with the direction of the wind these past months. Up until this point everything was on track for the proposed autumn  2024 finish. The groundworks had been completed, ground floor steel frame erected, and finally the first timber apartment modules were  appearing in a flurry of activity. 

Then in February, Tricas filed for insolvency and appointed an administrator to liquidate their assets. It cannot be denied that this was a massive blow to the progression of the project. Our co-operative values and skills were tested, our resilience had to thicken in the face of such a huge set-back. But we’re extremely happy to announce that everything is now back on course (albeit with a slightly adjusted completion date). 

Since the hold up, we’ve been working closely behind the scenes with GreenSquareAccord and their in-house contractor has agreed to complete the remainder of the work. We wanted them to be involved in the construction from the very beginning, but since our ground floor contains large amounts of steel and glass work for the commercial units, and they specialise in timber frame construction, they were not a viable option at first. Ironically, now that all the steel work is in place, they’re not only able to pick up where Tricas left off, but are also able to keep to our original budget and plan.  

Alina, member of Birmingham Bike Foundry and a housing member, stressed the importance of the development in regards to the three established co-ops waiting to move into their new ground floor units. “Our business is growing rapidly, especially now we’re stocking  electric cargo bikes. We can’t wait to be in the new fit-for-purpose shop space.” 

Thankfully we’ve lost no money, just time. An inspection of the site and the condition of the existing materials took place recently and revealed only minor damages to some of the panels which were left exposed to the elements whilst talks were ongoing. The crane is no longer a flamboyant weather vane, on Wednesday 1st May it started booming panels into place once again. The contractor is looking to have the roof on before July if the weather  plays ball, and with that milestone met we should be on course for an April 2025 move in date.  

This set back was out of our hands. Rising costs and overheads are affecting all sectors but particularly when it comes to construction. With the support of GreenSquareAccord the Co-operative members and the wider community, we’ve met this new challenge head on and secured the future of the project. 

Let us all enjoy watching the new building take shape once more. 

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Building Housing to Build Community

We wanted to give a little bit of an explanation about the communal spaces and ecological design ethos of our construction, which has already started being built and will be completed over the 12 months. This short blog is intended to complement the plans drawings on our website.


Birmingham is in a worsening housing crisis with hundreds of families in temporary accommodation and provision of affordable housing not growing to meet increased demand. Home ownership is not a possibility for most younger people and provision of social housing, inadequate. Private sector housing is often poor quality, has limited security and is expensive. We wanted to build housing that afford security in a place we could afford to rent and heat.

As the city council has recognised, we are also in a climate emergency. We chose a building method that would generate the lowest carbon emissions we could afford. Not only will this building use less energy to run, it will cost less carbon to make. In spite of this we faced resistance from city planners when we insisted on using this building technology. We hope that our struggle through that process will clear the path for others.

Beyond immediate housing need and the climate another crisis facing our society is isolation. Too many people have little to no control over their lives, through their housing and in their workplace. Modern life has tended to atomise us. We decided to work together to solve our problems not only because we are much more powerful together, but because working together is good in and of itself.
 
We tried to include communal elements to stop the isolation that can be common in flats and is found in identikit housing developments. Our overarching design ethos is one which is ecological, and low impact. One strategy we have used is to think about how some elements of the typical English home can be communalised.
 

Creative hall: This will be a large (100 square metres) multi-use events space adjoining Artefact which can be used by residents for celebrations and gatherings and by the worker co-ops for events such as conferences or performances.

Laundry and guest room: In two spaces next to the stairwell on the 1st and 2nd floors there will be a guest room and a laundry which will aim to communalise bulky and expensive things which households normally have individually, reducing the ‘dead time’ when they aren’t in use and therefore useless. This will also allow for more kitchen and living space in people’s flats and remove the noise and waste of 39 different versions of the same appliance. The bookable guest room will effectively add an extra bedroom to all homes allowing residents to have their families and friends visit with less hassle.

Communal Lounge: We made the decision to turn one of the flats upstairs into a communal lounge for use by all of the residents – this will be a space for smaller events and meals and will have facilities for large scale cooking. It affects the project financially, and thus would not exist in a profit-driven build. We’re pleased we could make it work with our budget.

Roof garden: This will be a private space for residents and workers in the co-ops to relax, dry laundry or enjoy a lunch break. We’ll also be putting loads of solar PV up there. We will have a lift for all floors, including the roof, making the building as disabled friendly as possible and a number of flats on the ground floor will be specifically designed to improve accessibility.
 
Bike shed: We all love bikes here so we are including a 100 space bike shelter for the residents and workers. There will be communal tools for people to use and a clause in our housing tenancy banning car ownership. We are lucky our site is well located close to the railway, river Rea cycle path and canal – and there’s a bus stop literally five metres from the building. For at least 100 people in Stirchley the era of the car is over!

Garden and outdoor spaces: The space will have a communal courtyard, bike shed and bin store. The bike shed will go far beyond what is normally available in commercial developments as part a central part of our transport strategy). We intend to have a small kitchen garden, maintained by Loaf with a pizza oven and a barbecue. We’ll also have some fruit trees and a shared composting scheme. The passageway provides access to the public to the space during the day, we hope to design the space in such a way that it can also be a tranquil space for residents and bringing some life to what is a very grey high street. We are also hoping to install a public water fountain and defibrillator as communal assets for Stirchley.

We are using a building method of closed-panel timber frame for the upper two floors of the developments. This is a pre-fabricated building method where the walls are structural and are made out of wood, and can be lifted into place efficiently, and at a lower cost, prepared in the factory to a precise and replicable standard. This product will be manufactured by LoCal Homes in Walsall and it fits our ambition to build a large scale building which was affordable and ecological. Although our plans have changed over the years we have strived for the project to be as environmentally sustainable as possible – not always easy when building social housing. The environmental aspect also includes decisions involving the engineering of the build: our flat roof allows for maximum solar PV; our air-source heat pumps provide efficient heating and cooling; and our decision not to build with brick due to the higher levels of embodied carbon.

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How we organise: Working Groups

Stirchley Co-operative Development will be owned and managed by the people that live here and the businesses that operate from the ground floor. Each housed person and each business is one member and is entitled to one vote on important issues. The majority of activity and decisions will be formed and carried out in our working groups and these activities then feedback to our monthly meetings.

There are lots of different tasks that are required for the successful running of a development of this size and so the work has been broken down into defined categories which are given the name “working groups”. There’s no limit to the number of working groups that can exist, but it’s simpler to mange if there are fewer, broader groups. Some groups may only need to exist for a short period of time if there’s a time specific project. Whereas others are integral to the day-to-day running of the building both today and into the future.

Co-operative members (as listed above) are expected to volunteer some time to support one or more working group and it’s useful to choose a working group that aligns with your skills or interests.

Below are a list of all the current working groups and the types of activities they cover.

Upstairs Working Group (WG): The upstairs working group deals mainly with issues and systems for the residents’ flats and communal spaces upstairs in the development. Initially these will include the design choices for residents’ flats (such as interiors, paint and kitchens)

Tech WG: This group maintains and develops the emails, website and could also do things in future around networks in the physical building and the internet provision. It might also look at the database used by the membership working group and has worked on the file system we use.

Outdoor spaces WG: The outdoor spaces working group is responsible for making decisions that affect the ground floor garden space, the bike shed structure, the roof garden and, to a lesser extent, the building façade. The group has been involved the design of these spaces including planting plans, positions of power and water points and the types of furniture and other amenities in the space. Once the building is complete the Outdoor spaces working group will collectively maintain these spaces.

Publicity WG: The publicity working group looks after all of the outgoing marketing of the co-operative as well as updating and responding to questions on the social media channels. The publicity group may produce flyers and posters for events or activities as well as working on a long-term documentary video project. Any new members could expect to edit copy or produce images for digital or print and attend events where speakers from the co-operative are invited. The publicity working group has crossover with many other working groups including: tech, membership and governance.

Membership WG: This group deals with the application process, for integrating new members into our co-op, and for ongoing member support.

Energy WG:We will have a large solar array installed on the roof and individual air source heat pumps for each unit. This working group will be focussed around these pieces of infrastructure and how we use them collectively as a group. So far meetings have been around planning though this may develop as the property moves towards completion.

Worker Co-ops (Downstairs) WG: The worker co-ops or downstairs working group is made up of the three worker co-op members: Artefact, Loaf and Birmingham Bike Foundry and members meet to discuss issues that affect the businesses and premises of the three. Members may use this working group to organise to support the establishment of other worker co-ops in the area.

Governance WG: The governance working group is responsible for creating and updating policy documents and for steering the co-operative toward its aims and objectives.

And more..

The working group system has room for expansion, and the current team who have been part of developing SCD envisage that the current listing of groups above will expand and grow as we welcome our new residential members over the course of the year before the build is completed. The eventual format of the working groups may be larger than what is outlined above, and may include sub groups – for instance composting might end up being its own mini operation and a sub-working group of the outdoor WG. Likewise there is potential in the building for things such as a food buying group to collectively order produce, and using the communal kitchen for regular communal meals.

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Ground breaking 16 June 2023

Spades hit the ground on community-owned development bringing 39 affordable homes and 3 retail units to Stirchley.

On Friday June 16 Stirchley Co-operative Development (SCD), an innovative, community-led housing and retail development in South Birmingham, broke ground on their ambitious new building. Construction will now begin on a democratically-owned and run 39 new homes and three fit-for-purpose retail units for long-established Stirchley community businesses.

The project plans were unanimously approved by Birmingham City Council in 2021, and the site was purchased from Seven Capital in the summer of last year after securing significant funding from Homes England and the European Interreg NWE. Construction of the three-storey development is now scheduled to begin in June 2023 and be complete around autumn 2024. Tricas Construction will carry out the build using the modular closed panel timber frame method developed by Black Country manufacturer LoCaL Homes.

The overall cost of the progressive development is set to be £10.4 million, which will provide:

● 39 affordable rental homes with laundries and common garden spaces. secure, sustainable and fit-for-purpose premises for three existing co-operative businesses that are
currently renting privately in Stirchley
● A new community space including a pedestrian walkway, seating, a shared garden
and cycle parking
● Closed timber frame panels, provided by Walsall-based LoCaL Homes, will reduce the overall carbon dioxide emissions and heating bills versus traditional built properties due to its fabric first design principles and high-quality factory fitted insulation.

Mike Doolan, Sales and Partnership Manager at LoCaL Homes said: “We are excited to be part of this innovative development which will help to meet local housing need. This community-led project is setting an example for others to follow in the provision of affordable and energy-efficient homes. Our off-site manufactured timber frames will help speed up construction times and reduce the environmental impact of this development.”

The scheme has been welcomed by the Stirchley community, with the planning application receiving over 300 positive recommendations, including from local business owners, community leaders and elected officials.

As the site is close to public transport, cycle routes and parks, it will include over 100 secure bike parking spaces donated by the Commonwealth Games organisers, and car ownership will be restricted through membership agreements.

Bea Hughes, SCD board member and volunteer, said of the planning decision “this is a massive step forward for Stirchley. The culmination of years of hard work. I’m excited to be helping build more public space for the community in this project. Free of cars and affordable for tenants. It gives us hope in response to the rising cost of living and the climate crisis.”

Founded in 2016, SCD is made up of members from two local housing co-operatives and three much loved local businesses, including Loaf bakery and cookery school, Artefact art space and café, and Birmingham Bike Foundry repair shop. The not-for-profit, mixed-use development has received project support from GreenSquareAccord, one of the largest housing and social care providers in England, and substantial financial support from Homes England, Power to Change and Interreg NWE CHARM.

For further information and to register interest in joining the co-operative housing development, visit stirchley.coop

ENDS

For more information or if you have any follow up questions, please email Chris Tomlinson at [email protected].

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A huge step closer to building affordable housing for Stirchley

Press Release: 21st January 2021

Stirchley Co-operative Development (SCD) have been granted planning approval to build much-needed affordable housing as well as three new fit-for-purpose retail units in the heart of our community. The approval was certified by the Birmingham City Council planning committee on January 21st and means that SCD can continue forward with this ambitious project in 2021. 

The grassroots community organisation, made up of two local housing co-operatives and three co-operative businesses, have been working on this project since 2016. They’ve had support from local co-op housing provider; Accord and have received substantial financial backing from Homes England. 

After positive early talks with Seven Capital the group decided that the derelict land on the corner of Hunts Rd and Pershore Rd would make a suitable site for their project. Following public consultations they secured initial funding to hire architects and began to see their ideas come to life for the first time. Such a progressive project is unusual for the area and this, coupled with the COVID-19 crisis, led to delays in the planning process which pushed the committee decision back seven months to January. 

The ongoing community support for the project has been incredible, receiving hundreds of positive recommendations from local residents and businesses as well as elected officials. The positive attention brought to Stirchley because of this project will set a target for other parts of the city to aim for in terms of sustainable build processes and the provision of affordable housing – both vital components of any future urban development and a key part of Birmingham City Council’s objectives for the city. 

In-short, Stirchley Co-operative Development are on track to provide:

  • 39 affordable rental properties (100% of the housing)
  • A secure and sustainable home for three existing co-operative businesses in Stirchley
  • A new community space including a pedestrian walkway, seating a community garden and cycle parking
  • A closed-timber frame building with an environmental spec that exceeds Building Regulations and will provide:
    • 27% reduction in CO2 emissions per year
    • 22% reduction in CO2 emissions per square metre

This is not a profit-driven development, instead the entire project is being managed by the local businesses and residents as a co-operative. It will remain a co-operative when the residents move in where they will take control of the building collectively. This will create a long-term asset for Stirchley and sustainable homes for families and individuals ambitious about our common future.

For more information and to register your interest in joining visit stirchley.coop

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Co-operation is growing in Stirchley

Affordable housing and retail spaces to add social and economic value to the community

The Birmingham suburb of Stirchley has a 150 year history of co-operative organisations run for the community, by the community. A major new venture revives this spirit for the 21st Century.

Following three years of planning and research, Stirchley Co-operative Development Ltd. (SCD) have agreed to purchase outright land on Hunts Road and Pershore Road, adjacent to the British Oak pub, from developers Seven Capital.

SCD is working toward the construction of a new residential and retail site with space for worker co-operatives and affordable housing in the heart of Stirchley. In partnership with Accord, a housing association with a great track record of building cost-conscious and ecological housing, SCD are developing plans for the site to include new retail premises for established worker co-operatives; Loaf Bakery & Cookery School, Birmingham Bike Foundry and Artefact Projects, and 45 affordable housing units to accommodate individuals, couples and families. The building will be constructed using sustainable and cost-efficient production techniques creating a functional new space that will be a positive addition to the Pershore Road.

The SCD building will be a long-term asset contributing to the regeneration of the area. Run with high levels of community involvement and reduced negative environmental impacts, it aims to be sensitive to the past and ambitious about Stirchley’s common future. Offering a sustainable alternative to private rental, this extensive project will help to tackle local social housing issues by providing accommodation and work space under common ownership.

Construction is set to begin in 2020 and is scheduled to last two years. During the construction stage the application process will open for those who wish to make their new home in Stirchley as part of the co-operative.

Stirchley Co-operative Development is supported by local businesses and its founding members are all current Stirchley or Selly Park residents. The organisation is incorporated as a business using the Somerset Rules for Co-operative Societies and has been awarded substantial financial support from Homes England.

For more information see the stirchley.coop website.