Cooperatives of Builders and Colony Housing Developments

Edinburgh is famous for its Old Town, with its tenements, and it’s Georgian New Town, but last year I visited Edinburgh with my wife and discovered another type of Edinburgh housing which is also very interesting.

We were staying in Leith, next to Leith Links, and from our bedroom window we saw these houses.

Edinburgh September 2016 (36)

Initially I thought they were ‘back-to-backs’ but later realised that I was wrong. They are actually double flats, with the upper flat having its entrance on the opposite side to the ground floor’s thus meaning that each flat has a front garden.

Later I learnt that these homes are part of the Edinburgh Colony Homes ‘movement’.

In 1861, a group of builders were in dispute with their employers over working hours and, in response, the employers locked them out and refused them any work. The builders (mainly skilled craftsmen such as masons, carpenters, plumbers, and plasterers) decided to form their own cooperative company, ‘The Edinburgh Co-operative Building Company Ltd’, and become their own developers this cutting out the developer employers.

Their first site was at Glenogle Park near the Waters of Leith, but further sites followed over the years.

Although the lock-out prompted the formation of the cooperative to provide work for the striking workers, they also wanted to tackle the poor quality of housing for the working classes in the old town, and the poor reputation of the tenements. They also wanted to build decent homes to rent or to sell to working people at reasonable prices. This they managed to do, make a 15% return on their investments, and still had enough to reinvest in building more homes.

The Colony Houses had a reputation for having settled communities thus forming a community feel to the area. On our exploration of Edinburgh we also found this area of Colony Homes at Abbeyhill, which today has many artists living there thus keeping up this community reputation.

Edinburgh September 2016 (100)

Edinburgh September 2016 (101)

This model of tradesmen and others getting together, and setting up a cooperative in order to develop housing sites, is one which we could do with resurrecting today (or be inspired by) in order to increase the number of housing developers which is one of the things we need to help us solve the housing crisis.

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