Sarah McLeary

Ceramics and Architecture

co operation makes it happen

Our new ceramic studio is set up as a co operative, the idea being that we all have a say in what happens, who comes in, and we all help each other out in terms of skill sharing or even just a helping hand to lift something. As I am the studio manager I’ve been learning a bit about how ‘proper’ co operatives work, where people share profit and actually join a business. Coincidentally a girl in my study group for my architecture exams lives in a Co operative shared house in Edinburgh, and invited me over to discuss how the exam went. It was really interesting and inspiring to see the set up they have there, and to see the beautiful house itself.

The co operative was set up in the 60s and became a limited company in 1974, so sends accounts to Companies House every year. The building is a villa and eight people live there at present, with a spare bedroom, two reception rooms, a large kitchen and communal dining room and a large garden/allotment area.

During the 80s the house became radically feminist, to the extent that men were not allowed past the front door, and all the members of the co op were lesbian. Now the members are all women, and that is likely to remain the case, but of course men can stay.

The house itself is fascinating. Considering the number [and during some periods, the amount] of inhabitants many of the original features of the villa remain. The original wallpapers, and enormous shutters for the bay windows are still intact, as well as the beautiful balustrade to the central staircase. The fact that so many original features remain is a real testament to how well the co op is run, although apparently the roof had been neglected to such an extent that it cost over £50k to repair. This was due in part to the feminist stance of former residents, who could not find a female roofer!

Cupola on the second floor. Note thistles, shamrock and roses on the wallpaper

Members of the co op are tenants of the company, but also run the company. They are every member’s tenant and landlord. Of course Co op living doesn’t always mean communal living, there are many excellent examples of co operatives around Britain. The Findhorn Foundation in Forres is not far away at all, and I’m looking forward to visiting soon. The aims of Findhorn are what all architects are interested in today; sustainability at a deep level, in terms of transport, community, and general day to day living as well as energy use.

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2011 by in architecture, edinburgh.
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