It’s sometimes forgotten, I think, that many of Britain’s early cooperative societies weren’t set up just with the idea of running shops. The Rochdale Pioneers themselves, for example, had the idea of “building, purchasing or erecting a number of houses in which those members desiring to assist each other in improving their domestic and social condition may reside”. By the start of the twentieth century, Britain’s local coop societies had collectively spent £1.8m on building or buying houses which they then let to their members.
I know all this because I’ve recently been reading Ernest Aves’ 1907 book Co-operative Industry which I picked up second-hand some time back. Aves also includes details of a fascinating early (1888) housing coop initiative, the Tenant Co-operators Ltd, which built working class housing in Penge, Upton Park, East Ham, Camberwell and Epsom. Investor members received 4% interest and surplus profits went to the tenant shareholders.
The housing coop movement in Britain is small but creative (a report I wrote on it a few years back for Co-ops UK can be found on my website). My own feeling is that there’s a great deal of scope for new community-led cooperative housing initiatives. One which has recently been drawn to my attention is the Lancaster Cohousing project, a fascinating development on the banks of the river Lune. If I can, I’ll write further about this in due course.