Today’s Conversation with Hamwic Housing Co-op in Southampton, an older and more well-established housing co-op, points out some of the problems that can crop up if a strong co-operative culture is not renewed and nurtured over time.
We talk to Dave Morris, outgoing Secretary of Hamwic:
My first question is:
Q: Which is a more powerful influence on members’ behaviour in your co-op – Rules or Policies & Procedures – or culture within the membership?
A: In our co-op a third of the members follow the rules policies and perform their voluntary duties to a reasonable level, given the part time job roles. Another third think they understand the rules but make up their own versions, are disruptive and generally challenge everything and come from a negative stand point although some still manage to contribute their time and efforts. Then a third either don’t care or don’t understand what they have joined. Culture tends to override sense on some decisions – a mob mentality at times
Q: How do new recruits ‘learn’ the prevailing culture of the co-operative?
A: We have tried inductions. It can help. Joining a group can help and working with other members. These only work though if members are willing to get involved. I think tying in training to steps on the ladder in getting a flat or renting a room may help, like if it is a part of the points system you need to get completed and signed off before getting options to apply…this would cover old and new members.
Q: What would you say are the advantages of the way in which new recruits learn your culture?
A: The advantages of new members is by learning our culture they get motivated to take control of their destiny and help the co-op contribute skills and man/woman power.
Q: And the disadvantages?
A: Disadvantages are learning bad habits from the bad element like arguing for the sake of it and petty wars that go on. So they get turned off and leave.
Q: Have you considered other ways you might adopt?
A: Yeah, we have discussed whether the co-op should be run by the Co-ordinating Committee, with housing block reps who relate the others’ needs and then maybe we could cut the General Meetings down by half. But that needs a lot more thought. We’ve also thought of other things like employing our own odd job man/woman to cut down on the raft of smaller jobs and expenses and that could combine grounds maintenance as we are a smallish co-op.
Q: Do you use a membership agreement? (document outlining what you can expect of your co-operative and what your co-operative expects from you; Rights and responsibilities of membership)
A: Our application form states you will agree to this and that when you join. We have rules, policies and standing orders that everyone gets a copy of. And in the inductions we always mention what is expected. The tenancy agreement ties in with all these in legal terms as we have had this checked with a solicitor. As long as the General Meeting agrees we can remove people for the worst breaches of policy, although in practice this doesn’t always work.
Q: What changes have you seen in your co-operative’s culture over time? Why do you think this is and what do you think the causes have been?
A: The co-op is constantly changing. Sometimes new blood gives it a positive kick up the arse, by members forming new friendships and working groups and exchanging ideas. We have had some great members in recent years. But some older members resent change and want their say which often leads us down a dead end, even when we are trying to point out long term benefits. Some members only want cheap rent or what they can get out of us (repairs or refurbished flats). I think in our own co-op if we make it through the next ten years we’ll be ok. But trying to keep a lid on reckless behaviour by some members in terms of spending money and fighting with other members who form factions is difficult as no one wants to be the ‘bad guy’ and tell them what to do. Most members have no idea of business and just see someone telling them what to do. The solution is more education and rotation of members in sub groups. i.e every one switches after twelve months, ‘cos we always change officers every year or more…..convincing the groups to do this maybe another hurdle!
Thanks a lot for telling us like it is Dave!
Check out Hamwic Housing Co-op
So what do you think? Do you have any thoughts, opinions, experience to share? We’d love to hear your comments or questions. Or if you would like to join in the ‘Conversations’ then answer the questions above, add any further ideas you may have and email to us at:
kate [at] cooperantics.coop
and we’ll be happy to have a Conversation with you!
Don’t forget, you can find lots of tools, tips and techniques for building and nurturing a strong co-operative culture right here (see links above). Or contact us if you’d like us to run a workshop, or provide consultancy support, advice or guidance on co-operative skills. More information on our services can be found here.