Legally we are a fully-mutual housing coop with formal rules, but we also have the community way of doing things. All decisions are made by consensus.
Community meetings held fortnightly on Sunday nights, alternately for business issues (such as finance and maintenance) and socials. Social/relationship meetings provide an opportunity for us to gather and address wider concerns relating to community life. All decisions are made by consensus.
Every member takes on a share of the work needed to run the community. Each household also meets once a month to discuss house things, such as cooking, cleaning and the use of communal house space. One house eats together regularly.
Some housing coops are basically just shared houses with everyone coming and going and doing their own thing. Mornington Grove is set up to be more than that - to be a community, because we believe in communal living. Our members live in 2 households that each operates as a single group living together. We buy food, toothpaste, tools, resources etc collectively so that everyone can use them, and we have a greater degree of care, respect and consideration for each other. Some people use the term "commune" to describe this sort of thing, others use a newer term "intentional community". You can find out more about communities through the "Diggers and Dreamers" website or their bi-annual book.
A housing coop is an organisation that provides housing for its members. Usually the property is owned or rented in the name of the coop as a whole and individual members rent their room/flat/house from the coop. Members of a coop generally have some degree of responsibility for running the organisation, this varies from coop to coop, very large coops may have committees or staff who run a lot of the everyday stuff, in small ones the members tend to do everything. "Fully mutual" coops are ones that only house their members and are only run by those same members &emdash; there are no other tenants without responsibility and no committees running the show.
A housing coop is a legally recognised structure, and is governed by a set of rules. Most coops in Britain also recognise the 6 co-operative principles:
- Membership should be voluntary and open to all who can make use of its services and are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without prejudice
- Coops are democratic organisations and should be managed in a democratic way
- Share capital should only receive a limited rate of interest, if any
- Any profits arising from the work of the coop belongs to the members of the coop as a group and should be distributed fairly, e.g. to develop the coop, provide common services or shared out to all members in proportion to their transactions with the coop
- All coops should provide training and education to members, officers and employees, and educate the general public in their principles and techniques of cooperation
- All coops should cooperate with other coops at local, national and international level
This is a process for making decisions, in which the important goal is to find a solution to the issue that everyone can accept. Unlike conventional systems, which favour dominating the group to get your own way, or winning the largest number of votes, consensus is about creative thinking and compromise. Radical Routes (A secondary coop of housing, workers and social club cooperatives all working to take control of their work/housing etc and create social change) have a useful summary in their member's pack, here's a summary:
- Set up meeting
- Introduce issue: give info and clarify decisions needing to be made
- Discussion: of all viewpoints and angles
- Make a proposal: taking into account all viewpoints
- Discuss proposal: good and bad points
- Amend proposal
- Test for consensus:
- Re-state amended proposal
- Any concerns
- Any objections
- Any blocks
- If not - you have an agreement
- Now make a plan to do it
Because Mornington Grove is a fairly small group, you might not always see us following this structure exactly, but it's a useful model of what's going on in meetings as we discuss issues and ways to deal with them.