The conference took place at the Edinburgh University campus, and was hosted by the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op, which with over 100 members is a lot larger than our cosy co-op! ESHC is situated on the edge of the huge green expanse the Meadows, and is within walking distance of the university. Opening its doors one year before ourselves, Edinburgh have been inspirational allies in the student co-operative movement. Their building is decorated warmly with DIY deco, slogans and painting, cats, a DIY workshop, and an impressive amount of bikes. ESHC embody the positive space that housing co-ops promote.
The three days were a mix of planning SfC projects, learning about local co-ops, discussing co-op theory and philosophy, learning practical skills, and socialising with lovely co-operators from all over the country. One session had us discussing the recent trend in capitalism for co-ordinating and monetising grassroots service provision, as exemplified by Uber and Airbnb, and how these systems might be better democratised. Another introduced the idea of emotional labour, the unseen work that we so often find ourselves overwhelmed by in co-ops and campaign groups, and how best to recognise it. Part of saturday afternoon saw several co-op attendees making badges with a cute little manual machine recently acquired by an ESHC resident - they were even floating ideas for a badge-making co-op!
Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the conference was getting to see all the other co-ops that members and alumni of ESHC have been involved with developing or setting up. There’s the New Leaf food co-op, which seeks to bring good wholesome food to demographics other than the wealthy middle classes who the organic movement typically favours, and provide good quality employment for local young people. There’s the Mutual Artists’ Studio Co-op, the first of its kind in the country, which gives local artists in Leith cheap access to communally-run studio space and puts on all sorts of workshops and events for the local community. And there’s the very new Edinburgh Brewing Co-op, which provided us with many pints of delicious, original beer at cheap prices to lubricate the conference’s socials.
All these initiatives go to show the importance of student co-ops to the wider co-op movement. A successful student co-op creates new co-operators, inspires them ideas for new co-ops, and gives them the tools and the desire to go out and make those co-ops work. A wide student co-op movement lays the groundwork for co-ops being much more widespread in all walks of society in the future. And if the plans made at this conference are anything to go by, SfC will be expanding significantly over the next few years, so expect to hear more from student co-ops near you in the near future!