Concrete meets the UEA-based housing co-operative

A housing co-operative launched by UEA and Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) students aims to create what they see as a fairer student housing system.

The Norwich Association for the Co-Operative Housing of Students (NACHoS) was founded with the objective of providing “below-market rent prices” through tenant ownership of a local property, which they hope will become “a hub of community and activism”.

The co-operative wish to purchase or lease a student house which will be used by students at UEA, NUA or the City College. The group is affiliated to the national co-operative federation Students for Co-Operation, while plans are developing for a national body to unite student housing co-operatives specifically.

NACHoS recently applied for a donation which if successful in obtaining, it will then look to top up using so-called peer-to-peer ‘loan stock’ from individuals in order to secure their first mortgage and house students.

In addition to helping individual students, Rowan Gavin, a recent UEA graduate and member of the housing group says they have a wider aim in demonstrating the co-operative model: “Even if it’s small, it has a fairly significant ideological impact… if universities, students, and other groups in the area see it working, they start to potentially change their perspective on what is actually possible in terms of accommodation.”

Gavin told Concrete: “We have intentionally not made a great deal of effort to collaborate with the university because we see them as cynically ripping off students quite intentionally in order to make a profit.

“Year on year their profit from student halls is going up and simultaneously… senior management wages are going up.”

When asked for a response to these statements, a university spokesperson said:

“Over the past few years UEA has invested £41.2 million in building new on-campus student accommodation (Crome, Barton, Hickling). The days of Government grants are over, so the University has to borrow money in order to fund large capital schemes like new student accommodation and then generate a reasonable income to repay borrowings and fund future developments. It is not a question of generating profit as we are a not-for-profit institution but it is about helping to generate income to pay for new teaching facilities, new labs and new accommodation.

“UEA’s accommodation is offered at a wide range of specifications and prices. The newest accommodation is the most expensive and ranges from c £153 a week for en-suite rooms in Barton and Hickling to c £53 a week for a shared room on campus.  Regarding affordability, we benchmark rents against other universities to ensure that they are fair and comparable and the Royal Bank of Scotland Student Living Index 2016 placed UEA as the 12th most affordable university in the country. The average weekly rent for students nationally was £109 and Norwich’s average weekly rent was £91.80.  This year, following discussions with the UEA students’ union, the university did reduce the proposed rental increase in response to the SU’s representations.”

After a resolution passed by Union Council in January 2015, work began on legally registering with the Financial Conduct Authority and building the co-operative, looking to emulate the successes of three similar groups in Birmingham (the UK’s first student housing co-operative), Sheffield and Edinburgh, the largest so far with 106 residents.

The group meet at 11am on Thursdays during term time in bookable room seven or eight of Union House.


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Tony Allen