BACKGROUND OF MIDDLESEX HOUSING CO-OPERATIVE (MHC)
Early days of voluntary action
The history of MHC, founded in 1981, dates back to the 1960s. A group of young, single people in outer West London came together through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and local Folk Clubs. By the mid 1960s they began to move beyond just protesting towards practical co-operative solutions for some of their needs. The Freeman Syndicate was set up to run a range of activities. The Freeman Syndicate Fun Club was run by volunteers on every Friday evening until the early 70s in the White Hart pub in Southall. Folk, jazz, blues, poetry, comedy and drama were mixed with politics and planning new projects. A large van owned by the Syndicate was used for weekend trips and moving members between homes. Occasional concerts were promoted and, with help from Syndicate volunteers and funds, a West London magazine was produced. Many Syndicate members could not find decent affordable housing and several years of discussion led to the formation of Middlesex Housing Association (MHA) in 1969.
First attempt to house 54 people for only £10,000
The first MHA proposal, in 1969, was to lease the long-empty Railway Workers Hostel in Southall. This was to be converted into flats, a communal space, restaurant, laundry, shop and a crèche to house 54 people at a cost of £10,000. Voluntary, self-help building work was planned to make this possible without any Government subsidy. Unfortunately British Rail did not lease the building to MHA and it was left derelict for many years.
Filling up the empties
MHA members looked for other schemes and, from early 1972, set up several organisations which resulted in the first properties being obtained free of charge from Hounslow Council in early 1973. These were renovated entirely by voluntary labour and more properties were then located by volunteers carrying out empty property surveys in the Boroughs of Hounslow, Hillingdon and Ealing. Initial fundraising was aided by members saving £20 a month in loanstock issued by MHA.
Going for gold
The 1974 Housing Act made Government subsidy available so MHA began to set up permanent Housing Co-operatives for Green Dragon Lane (GDL) in Brentford and Water Tower (WT) in Southall.
Sharing the workload
By 1977 MHA had more than 70 properties leased from several Councils and the Greater London Council, and was raising loans from the Co-operative Bank. The first permanent Housing Co-ops were registered as eligible for grant in 1978, so MHA proposed the idea of a West London Secondary Co-op to administer co-ops. In 1981 MHA had over 100 leased properties and decided to set up Middlesex Housing Co-operative (MHC) to carry on future self-help work on temporary housing.
Getting Co-ops going – 54 housed for £1.3 million
MHA initially used development services from the Society for Co-operative Dwellings (SCD) to obtain grant for the Co-ops. GDL completed its first new 22 flats and 3 houses, costing £680,000 in 1983. The Water Tower conversion into 37 flats for 54 people, costing £1.3m, was completed in 1984 and officially opened by Ken Livingstone, Leader of the Greater London Council. MHA also subsequently set up new permanent co-ops for Cross Lances and Wellington, both in Hounslow, Dawley in Hayes, Old Isleworth in Isleworth, Stoney Wall in Bedfont and Watermans in Brentford. These co-ops all accepted applicants from MHA temporary housing as their first tenant members.
A West London Secondary Housing Co-op at last!
SCD was closed down in 1986 and MHA gave away its co-op support and housing management business, setting up Co-op Homes to carry on work with co-ops. MHA also transferred most of its leased properties to Co-op Homes which was able to obtain grants to improve and maintain them. Co-op Homes became the second largest user of public funds for temporary housing in the country and managed the business of more than 20 co-ops providing nearly 2,000 homes in total.
End of the road for public subsidy
Changes in grant funding rules made in 1988 required private finance as well as Government subsidy to fund future schemes, and only large scale Housing Associations were able to work under these new rules. Setting up new subsidised housing co-ops was no longer possible. With no future co-op promotional role MHA eventually closed down by transferring its remaining properties and members to MHC in 2004.
The hard road ahead
MHC remains in existence to carry on with unsubsidised self help temporary housing while seeking longer term redevelopment projects for permanent housing. Developing affordable rented housing without subsidy is very difficult, but some properties owned by MHC may offer potential success. The future, in the new age of austerity, depends on the active involvement and hard work of MHC members.
Moving into a permanent Co-op
Members of MHC can still apply to join permanent Co-ops when they have vacancies and active involvement in MHC makes acceptance by a Co-op much more likely!