Conversation #3 is with Jane Ferrie of Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-op, or MAJ for short. Formed in 1999 by a group of individuals from North London, most on welfare benefits or low waged, they have bought and converted a house in North London, as well as managing a house in which some members are tenants. Members are also involved in Haringey Solidarity Group, a non aligned local campaigning group. As part of the housing co-operative they hope to incorporate a meeting space and a few small office/ work spaces, for campaigning groups and others.
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: Definitely the most powerful is a co-operative ‘culture’ within the membership. However, that needs to be combined with playing to everyone’s strengths.
Q: How do new recruits ‘learn’ the prevailing culture of the co-operative?
A: MAJ is a small co-op and we have had very few new members. The few we have had have already been familiar with our co-operative culture from being part of joint events with existing members of the co-op. Once actually in the co-op new members learn a lot from seeing what goes on at meetings. We don’t have a regular newsletter but take it in turns to write the MAJ contribution to the Radical Routes quarterly newsletter Radical Rumours. Writing down what you and other co-op members have been doing over the past three months can help reinforce co-op cohesion and culture.
Q: What would you say are the advantages of the way in which new recruits learn your culture?
A: The advantages are that it is organic and intuitive
Q: And the disadvantages?
A: that it is unstructured and might require rethinking if new members were to join who had not previously had any experience of living or working co-operatively.
Q: Have you considered other ways you might adopt?
A: No, we haven’t, but we are thinking possibly of expanding the co-op so this will be something that we may well need to consider.
Q: Do you use a member agreement? (A document outlining what you can expect of your co-operative and what your co-operative expects from you; Rights and responsibilities of membership)
A: No we don’t at the moment, because we have a set of primary and secondary rules that cover much of what would probably be covered by a membership agreement. However, if there were added benefits to a membership agreement we would consider it.
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: It changed significantly once we got our first property and again when we took over the management of the other property where most of the rest of our members live. The move from talking and planning to hands on doing brought us focus and tangible results.
Thanks a lot Jane!
Check out Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-op and follow @MAJHousingCoop
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.