Rootstock Investors Newsletter Spring 2007
- Welcome Note
- Wild Peak – Developing a rural housing co-op
- Radical Routes ‘Has’ London - Mary Ann Johnson
- 10 Years of Walden Pond - An update from an established, expanding co-op
- Names Explained
- Enheduanna Housing Co-operative
- Radical Routes - Rootstock - Radical Routes: Who’s who and how does it all work.
The new Rootstock Committee set itself one major organizational goal for the year, and we are very happy to report that we have succeeded. As we reported at the AGM, we have been investigating membership of the Community Development Finance Association (CDFA) as a form of self-regulation within the increasingly restrictive legislative environment created by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
After a detailed discussion with the head of the CDFA earlier in the year, and a close, line-by-line examination of the new Code of Practice agreed between the CDFA and the FSA, the Committee decided to proceed. We began formalizing our policies and procedures and classifying our activities in the preferred manner and categories, as part of our application to join the CDFA.
We have now heard that our application was successful, and Rootstock is now a Charter Member (the most rigorous category of membership) of the CDFA! Membership means that our compliance with the CDFA Code of Practice will be assessed regularly. It also gives us access to low-cost training and to many useful networking opportunities.
While we are very pleased to have been accepted into the CDFA, the work does not end there. There are many more steps to go through in order to draw up all the paperwork required by the Code of Practice (they allow a year to adapt!), and there will be significant ongoing costs in time and money to operate the required policies and procedures, and simply to remain members of the CDFA.
We are also informed by Radical Routes that there is an increased demand from RR co-ops for loans, and barely sufficient funds available.
In order to meet our increased operational costs, and in order to supply Radical Routes co-ops with the loans that they require, the Committee is now embarking on an investment-raising campaign. We have set ourselves the ambitious goal of raising £50,000 by the end of the year. £5,000 is already on its way as the result of attending the Co-op Congress in Brighton, which leaves £45,000 to raise.
If you are able to make a contribution to that total, we would be very grateful for any investment that you can make. If there isn’t an application form with this newsletter, please do telephone our administrative worker Al Jack on 0870 458 1132 and give him your name and address.
Thank you for all your support.
Chair, Rootstock Committee
With rural house prices rising as fast as urban and with the economic crisis in agriculture sending thousands of farms out of business, much of the countryside is becoming the preserve of rich commuters and retirees. Wild Peak is looking to strike a small blow against this trend by creating a co-op to provide low-cost self-managed housing and space for rural social enterprises.
After nearly three years of planning and gathering members, there are now ten of us (eight adults and two teenagers) raising loanstock and looking for property on the eastern side of the Peak District. We plan to buy farm buildings which can be converted to house 10-12 people in as self-reliant and sustainable a way as possible, along with some land. This is an ambitious project and our members are starting with very little personal wealth, so almost all our funding is coming from outside.
The current economic situation makes it virtually impossible to make a living off the land sufficient to fund buying a farm (ironic, no?) so our income will remain reliant on outside work and other businesses, probably including a bunkhouse/camping barn. We will also house the Wild Things Ecological Education Collective, a workers’ co-op currently based in Nottingham, and employing some of our members, which teaches urban children and young people about wildlife, the environment and woodland skills.
While urban co-ops often function as a temporary place to stay, Wild Peak asks members for a long-term commitment to make homes and a base for radical activism. We will also provide a refuge for urban activists, especially from other Radical Routes co-ops, and space to host gatherings.
We have a £60,000 loan from Radical Routes agreed and Ecology Building Society is willing to consider giving us a mortgage, but we still need loanstock and one or two more members.
After eight years of trying to house all our members; after losing one member to cancer; after having three bits of land we hoped to do self-build on snatched from our grasp; and after having members leave, join and in some cases leave again, we have finally (fingers crossed) managed to get hold of some property in Haringey, north London. Let’s hope this article doesn’t put the kiss of death on it and we see this one slip through our fingers as well.
Because of the stupidly high prices of property around where we live, and because we are too stubborn to move out of Haringey, it looks like we won’t be able to house all 8 of us at first. But, if we house some of us, it will give us (and hopefully others) inspiration it can be done in London. And once we have one place, we hope we can soon expand and manage to house more of us as well as set up a resource centre. All we can say is “watch this space”.
The house we are looking at needs work done on it; we are paying out nearly £300,000 for a four bedroom house; and are budgeting an extra £10,000 for renovations – more if we can wangle the money. Over the eight years we have accumulated a decent amount of donations and loan stock and are looking at a bank loan of around £130,000. But this still left us short and without the help of Radical Routes and Rootstock we wouldn’t have got that final mile to raise all we needed. Getting £50,000 from Radical Routes was crucial to our plans, as was an interest rate below what banks were offering. We needed every little saving we could find. If we do buy another property in the future a Radical Routes loan will be even more crucial as it will be even harder to raise loan stock or donations. So, cheers folks.
But, the money is only part of it. As we said in an email to Radical Routes co-op’s only recently “We just wanted to send a big thank you to everyone in Radical Routes, not only for agreeing to loan us money for our project, but for all the support. A lot of people have been really helpful to us over the years, with practical help and moral support, and at the Gathering in Brighton we were really touched by everyone’s goodwill and encouragement. With any luck the house purchase in Tottenham will go through, and it will be the start of a thriving co-op, finally! So thanks everyone, and we’ll keep you posted on developments. Best wishes from all of us in Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-op.” That says it all really.
AN UPDATE FROM AN ESTABLISHED, EXPANDING CO-OP
Walden Pond Housing Co-op was formed in 1997 by a small committed group of activists, mostly from the peace movement, who were fed up with the insecurity and injustice of renting from private landlords and the lack of campaigning and work space. Walden Pond joined Radical Routes in 1999 and never looked back. In 2001 the co-op bought its first house, a 4 bed Victorian terraced house in St Leonards on Sea, with the help of a Radical Routes top-up loan. A little later, a further Radical Routes loan allowed the co-op to buy a nearby flat. The most recent milestone was a decision in late 2006 to expand further by renting additional flats, bringing the membership up to 11.
Walden Pond has always been about more than just housing. The co-op exists to provide a stable base for the social change activism of its members. Over the years this has included work on a national or international level with Voices in the Wilderness UK, Justice Not Vengeance, Scientists for Global Responsibility, and the Bicycology cycle activism collective, to give just a few examples. Members have also been heavily involved in local groups working on home education, environmental issues, anti-war campaigning, and improving cycling provision.
Challenges for the future include reducing the co-op’s environmental impact, and buying rather than renting accommodation for all the members. Members are also looking at ways to establish ethical independent incomes for themselves and others by setting up worker co-operatives in areas such as environmental education and renewable energy.
Walden Pond is a pond, located in Concord, Massachusetts. It was formed by retreating glaciers 10,000 - 12,000 years ago.The writer, transcendentalist, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau lived on the shores of the pond for two years starting in the summer of 1845. His account of the experience was recorded in ‘Walden, or, Life in the Woods’, and made the spot famous.
Mary Ann Johnson was involved in the swing movement of the 1830’s In the early part of the 19th Century farm labourers were being kicked out of work and having wages rates slashed because of landlords desire for extra profits.
We purposely wanted to associate our housing co-operative with a movement such as this because it is one of the earliest examples we can find of ordinary working people taking collective action themselves to defend their living conditions. In 1830 Mary Ann Johnson was 10 years of age. In October 1830 she was arrested for allegedly burning a landlord’s hay stacks The magistrate was sure that Mary Ann Johnson was one of the organisers around Kent. However, as they could not find enough evidence against her for either the burnings or as a leading light in the movement, they sentenced her instead to three months imprisonment for vagrancy.
Enheduanna is a registered housing co-operative looking for a property around central Birmingham to accommodate its five members. We need somewhere to live quite urgently. We’ve been planning to live together since last year and two of us are about to move to Birmingham. We are all coming to the end of our current housing contracts and are looking forward to finally taking control of our own living situation!
Because it’s so huge, Birmingham doesn’t seem to be capable of sustaining an organic network of dissent – which explains why Britain’s second biggest city is so often under-represented in terms of activism. We believe that the problem is largely one of communication – without places where people can meet face to face and share resources and experience, it is difficult to co-ordinate any activity, or to generate a sense of community.
Birmingham is dominated by the Bullring and its surrounding shopping complexes. We see ourselves as more than just consumers and as such we have been systematically excluded from what seems to be the only social focus of our city. We are exiles in our own space!
Our housing co-operative will aim to establish a different paradigm, providing a non-commercial space for use by activists and the community. We have already put on D.I.Y. gigs, no-authority art shows and skill share workshops elsewhere – Enheduanna Co-op will give us a place to do so as part of a long-term strategy to unify creative resistance.
In order to make this work, we need enough money to ensure we can self-sufficiently purchase a house centrally enough in Birmingham to share resources and experience, meet with activist groups face-to-face and generate a sincere sense of community.
We are hoping that Enheduanna will be a housing co-operative that will be used for a long, long time after we have left.
It took some of the finest financial minds of the last millennium to come up with this neat little system of legally raising money with the minimum of state interference and fees.
Rootstock is an investors co-op. People and organisations buy shares in Rootstock and choose to receive full, half or zero interest on their shares. The Rootstock committee (made up of interested Rootstock shareholders) then sets the interest rate at which dividends are paid on the shares.
Here’s the clever bit. Rootstock then buys shares in Radical Routes. Currently Rootstock has £209 000 worth of Radical Routes shares.
Radical Routes is a network of co-ops, every 3 months each co-op in the network sends a representative to a meeting. If a co-op wants to borrow some money from Radical Routes they have to put in an application to this meeting and EVERY co-op in the network has to agree to the loan. This ‘Peer-reviewed’ (getting technical isn’t it) lending means that things that may have been missed out can get flagged up and sorted out.
While I’m sure it is a nerve racking time for co-ops applying for loans and while scrutiny of business plans can be in-depth and hard (some may even say harsh), it is, in the end, a supportive process that results in solid investments in successful co-ops.
It doesn’t stop there though. Because Radical Routes is a small network of only 30 or so co-operatives, we all know each other fairly well and can support each other in times of need. Repayment holidays are easily arranged and practical and theoretical advise is never far away.
The upshot of all this is a 100% lending record whereby Radical Routes has never lost money due to a co-op failing to repay its loan.