CO-OPERATIVE HOUSING IN SMALL HEATH – ALAN CLAWLEY

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From ‘A History of Small Heath’: 6 March 2010

Alan Clawleyalso co-founder and mainstay of the only independent credit union in Birmingham – summarised:

During the 70s the City Council developed a new Urban Renewal approach to housing renovation, driven by a multi-disciplinary officers’ group led by Councillor Taylor (Labour), was an idea which came out of an Urban Renewal Conference in 1972.

Midland Area Improvement Housing Association was active in Small Heath from the late 70s and helped the new housing co-operatives to get started with a determined band of housing workers and local residents.

In between leaving the Inner Area Study in 1976 and joining Urban Renewal in 1977 I was asked to join the voluntary Small Heath Co-operative Housing Advisory Group. This was made up of several professionals who had seen the opportunity for developing housing co-ops following the passing of the 1974 Housing Act which established the Housing Corporation and a system of capital funding (Housing Association Grant or “HAG”).

Small Heath’s first co-op was Holmwood and Storrs which was already going by the time I got involved with the Group. An active member of the Group was Sylvia Allen who was the Team Clerk and who lived in Holmwood Road. Holmwood Co-op was opened in 1977 and followed by Victoria, Triangle, Small Heath Park 1984, Blake Lane and the Bordesley Shell Co-op the number of dwellings owned by co-ops in Small Heath rose to over a hundred by the end of the century.

The Small Heath Co-operative Housing Advisory group decided that “Victoria” be the Group’s next target for a housing co-op. I was at the time Chair of the Victoria Residents Association and agreed to use the occasion of the Annual General Meeting in January 1977 to float the idea of a Victoria housing cooperative. Urban Renewal gave the Group some names of landlords who owned run-down rented houses in the area. One of these was Jack Cotton the estate agent. The houses were mostly occupied by elderly people paying very low rents. This was presumably the reason the landlord gave for not spending any money on their upkeep. Armed with this list a few members of the Group, Ian Young, Peter White, Jon Fitzmaurice, Mike Martin and I, called on the tenants.

We carried the good news that the government would give us money if we formed our own housing co-operative, bought their house from the landlord and renovated it to a high standard for them to live in. At first this was received with healthy scepticism but we had won our first convert, Phil Parsons who lived with his elderly mother in Cyril Road. We began to form a group which eventually contained the seven founder members (Phil Parsons, Kath Hoey, Paddy Hoey, Terry Currier, Mrs Parsons, Hazel and me).  A grant was received from a charitable foundation to apply to the National Federation of Housing Associations for the use of their Model Rules and for the co-op to be registered as an Industrial and Provident Society.

The Victoria Tenants Co-opera­tive became an Industrial and Provident Society in 1978 and was also registered by the Housing Corporation so as to be eligible for Housing Association Grants. It decided early on to appoint Midland Area Improvement Housing Association as its development agent and Gwynne Roberts as its architect.

The Small Heath Co-operative Housing Advisory Group eventually turned into a formally constituted secondary co-operative, Small Heath Co-operative Housing Services, and was given funding from the Inner-City Partnership Programme for several years. This gave the work some stability and a team of paid staff to enable it to support the growth of co-ops in Small Heath (see NFHA Yearbook for details).

The Sunday Mercury published an account and a photograph of the members of the Small Heath Park Housing Co-operative on its housing site on Cooksey Road in July 1982. The report, headed “Digging in to stay together”, said: 

“When their homes were threatened with demolition, the families of Byron Road vowed that the community they had built over a lifetime should never be destroyed. They would stick together even if that meant building a brand-new street of their own. Yesterday – after a five-year battle – the families finally saw the foundation stone laid on a £1million scheme that will do just that. A total of 47 new homes are to be built just a stones throw from their old terraced houses in the inner-city Birmingham suburb of Small Heath. To beat the bulldozer, Byron Road families formed themselves into a housing co-operative, a self-help organisation which legally empowered them to become part of the high-powered world of housing development. 

But they hit a series of problems. First the site earmarked for the project by Birmingham City Council was caught in a tangle of freehold problems. Then it became officially set aside for the building of a new silicon chip factory. When that plan was finally abandoned by councillors the co-operative was finally allowed to sign contracts. With money from the Government’s Housing Corporation and guided by a committee of residents building work at last began. The foundation stone on the scheme was laid yesterday by the former chairman of the city’s housing committee, Coun. Hugh McCallion.” 

By 1983 our son was eleven and our daughter eight years old. We needed a three-bedroom house. We had hoped that Victoria Tenants Co-operative would meet our need but this was not to be. So we approached Small Heath Park Housing Co-operative who were looking for people to replace those who had dropped off the waiting list for their new scheme on Cooksey Road. 

We attended the interview and were offered a house. We chose number 26 Taywood Drive and moved in on 4th July 1983. Hazel started straight away to attend Committee meetings, taking seriously her obligation to be a good co-operator. At our first General Meeting in April 1984 we were both elected to the committee. We soon found that the founding caucus held very tightly onto the reins of the co-op. It was clear that we had joined their co-op and we were not one of them. Even the street name “Taywood Drive” was a way of immortalising its two founding families, the Taylors and Attwoods. It seemed however that the Housing Corporation had put them under pressure to recruit more young people and it was true that the vacancies they weren’t able to fill from their own number were the family houses. The split between the “founders” and the “newcomers” was thus reinforced by age and status. It was a division that proved impossible to overcome.

SHCHAG became a secondary Co-operative called Small Heath Co-operative Housing Services and for a time managed Small Heath Park’s rent account. During my time as Chair the Co-op bought its own computer and software and began to manage the accounts from an office in one of the flats on the estate. SHCHS became Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services and was taken over by the Accord Housing Association. It moved out of its small and run-down office on the Coventry Road and took up more salubrious accommodation in the Bond, a converted warehouse in Digbeth.

Read a fuller account here

 

 

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