These students are part of the UK’s first student co-op house.
Every student who has moved away for university has a questionable story about their experience with student accommodation.
There’s the funny; the traffic cones dragged miles down the road after a drunken night on the town.
The repulsive; the weeks-old piles of dishes that have started growing their own life forms.
Then there’s the more serious; the looming fear of whether you’ll be able to feed yourself this week after your rent’s been paid.
According to figures from Save the Student, 63% of students say that the cost of their accommodation impacts their mental health.
The figures also state that students spend an average of £125 per week on rent with an average loan of £139 per week, leaving just £8 to cover other essentials of student life such as groceries, travel and socialising.
Rent prices vary regionally. London remains the priciest place for students to rent, though those studying in the capital may be entitled to up to £3000 more maintenance loan.
At the University of Birmingham, students can expect to pay £150 per week for a self-catered room in University halls.
This means that a student receiving the average amount of student loan could be in £500 debt by the end of their first year, provided they have no other means of income.
That’s why one group of Birmingham students came up with a solution to the problem of rising rent.
The Birmingham Student Housing Co-Operative, founded in 2014, provides ‘democratically managed, environmentally conscious, high quality housing.’
The co-operative works by acquiring buildings that are then leased on to members, removing the need for a landlord as tenants manage the property themselves.
Fay from the Birmingham Student Housing Co-Operative describes her experiences with student landlords as ‘abysmal.’ She struggles with ADHD and tributes her newly-found coping skills to the co-op.
“The collective atmosphere builds a sense of community… The removal of the landlord from the house dynamics has fostered organic engagement in the running of the house.
“The cut that is normally taken by private landlords in – often poorly – maintaining rented accommodation is reinvested into the house so that tenants have the resources to carry out more extensive house maintenance and improvements.”
In a recent advertisement for the co-op, rent was priced at under £310 per month, including bills. This is significantly less than the price of university halls.
Another tenant, Stewart, has previously lived in student halls and private housing, and found both experiences isolating.
Stewart is on the house’s finance team and says the co-op has created a flexible safe space where tenants can talk about any money worries, contributing to overall mental wellness:
“As students, the loan usually doesn’t come in until around mid-September, which can make moving into accommodation in August tricky. But as a co-op, we can be more flexible about when rent payments are due, which takes a lot of pressure off everyone. If one person is struggling with money or mental health, we can share the financial and physical workload and no-one has to go without food!”
Student co-ops are rising in popularity, with a number of them cropping up in Sheffield, Nottingham and Glasgow.
This is alongside the increasing action of organisation Rent Strike, who are organising Cut the Rent campaigns across the country.
The campaigns aim to make student housing more accessible to the working class.
The Birmingham Student Housing Co-Operative has been a success for the last five years and has seen many tenants pass through its doors for a more affordable living situation.
To find out more about housing co-operatives, click here.