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The Finsbury Park Housing Co-op celebrates 40 years and housing hundreds

Co-operative that has housed around 200 people - with a policy of trying to keep rents affordable - celebrates its 40th anniversary

10 November, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Housing co-op members at the 40th anniversary party

MEMBERS of Finsbury Park Housing Co-operative found order in the chaos of 1970s London, where Victorian and Georgian houses lay empty but habitable.

Co-op founder Mick Sullivan decided to house himself and his fellow squatters. They were quickly given short-term lets from the council.

The story of how it all began was recalled as the co-op celebrated its 40th anniversary last month.

Mr Sullivan, 68, estimates the co-op – with offices in Pine Grove – has housed about 200 people over its life, with a policy of trying to keep rents affordable.

The co-op was registered in 1977 but it took seven years to buy the first house after finally securing a mortgage. “It was a tough time, but it was a very, very constructive time,” Mr Sullivan said. “It got lots of people, young people, disadvantaged people with no access to decent housing, to work together.

“This is the miracle that happened really, that people started to work collectively instead of individually.”

Poet Frances Presley, who first lived in a co-op house in the 1980s, said: “If you want to live independently, how do you do that without feeling threatened, especially in London? This gives you security, knowing there are friends around, and you’re part of a community that allows you to be independent and do what you want to do.”

Being a co-op member isn’t for everyone. There are weekly Tuesday night meetings where residents thrash out their problems with the management committee.

Mick Sullivan

“A lot of other associations are very calm and not much goes on,” Mr Sullivan said. “But this lot are really sort of mouthy and alive and contentious and that’s really good. There’s still rows and that’s as it should be because it keeps it alive.”

With mortgages for properties paid off, all the rent goes back into the co-op to maintain properties. Mr Sullivan said costs were kept down by employing only one member of staff – an accountant – while everyone else volunteers multiple hours a week.

Jessie Hall, 58, has fostered 25 children in her four-bedroom co-op house in Archway since she moved in 10 years ago.

“I was a council tenant for many years, and I had no way of ever being rehoused,” she said. “There were three of us, and I had a two-bedroom. For me that was quite frustrating. It’s important for people to have enough room and to not be cramped.

“All the children that have come here, I’m sure they have had a good time and had room.”

With the government widening the right-to-buy schemes it remains uncertain if the co-op can survive another 40 years.

Mr Sullivan said: “One of the difficulties is to get new blood, people who are really committed to it.

“I’m not criticising anybody, but that fervour 40 years ago and that sense of rage at the injustice of social housing is what sustains us.

“Most of our tenants now are quite old. At the same time, because we don’t have any new properties, we don’t have new younger people coming into the association. I don’t quite know how it will go on.”

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