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History of Southsea Self Help Housing Co-operative


Constitution & Structure

The early ‘constitution’ of the co-op, in common with all co-ops, was based on general co-operative principles: open membership, democratic control, member participation, autonomy & independence, education & training of members, community involvement, etc. In the case of SSHH, we had a simple statement: to make housing available to anyone with a genuine housing need, who is willing to be involved in the ‘scheme’, and prepared to abide by the concept of self help.

The earliest recorded Allocations procedure was to have an Allocations meeting proceeded by a social evening: Applicants could express their housing preferences and put forward their case. They would leave the meeting, and members would vote, by secret ballot.

Crystal Rooms
Crystal Rooms Roundabout Development

Later on, the procedure was to first invite applicants to an ‘Introductory Talk’, where they could learn about the co-op. Sometimes this involved a Slide Show. Following this was a formal interview by members of the ‘Selection Panel’. Home visits were also sometimes carried out. Recommendations were then taken to a meeting of the co-op. In fact, the procedure was always going through changes and modifications. We had to square up our original aims (above) with our obligations regarding Equal Opportunities. We had to submit our membership policy to the Housing Corporation, prior to our registration with them in 1985.

In addition to Chairperson, Secretary & Treasurer, as the group evolved we had a Building (later Maintenance) Officer, Education/Publicity Officer, Fund Raising Officer, Welfare Officer, Selection Secretary, and later, Equal Opportunities & Development Officers. Associated groups were Building & Rent teams, ‘Selection Panel’, etc. For many years the group also had a ‘Disciplinary Panel’. This, along with ‘Special General Meetings’ was the early mechanism for dealing with disputes such as breaches of  tenancy, rent arrears, or matters of a personal nature. The (unbiased) group, like selection, would take recommendations to a meeting of the co-op.

Bessant Rd Canal Walk
Besant Road Canal Walk

The registered Rules of the co-op stated that the decision making body of the co-op (consisting of 15 members, plus occasional co-options). The reality was that for many years, the co-op held 2 meetings a month – ‘Policy’ & ‘Management’. There had been quite a lot of experimentation with the meetings structure of the co-op.

It is fair to say that around ’83, ’84 & beyond, there was considerable confusion among applicants (and members) about the decision making structure, especially with regards to voting rights. Also, there had been cases of applicants being allocated a room before being accepted as members. Concern also, about seeming to automatically accept new members.

Bessant Rd
Bessant Rd
Besant Road Besant Road

There was an awkward case in ’85, where a house people squatted who apparently didn’t know it was one of our houses. They wished to apply for membership and allocation to this house. Awkward in the sense that we were primarily concerned with housing those in need, and were aware of our history regarding squatting, etc. We didn’t want to be regarded with suspicion or hostility over this. There may be a problem should we require vacant possession of the house. We were also in the process of trying to form a consistent allocations policy. In the end, it was agreed we start eviction procedures through the Small Claims Court, and to process their applications through the ‘normal’ procedure.

Crystal Rooms
Froddington Rd
Crystal Rooms Froddington Road

Against this was a background, sometimes of apathy, for example:
     “I did hear about a meeting at 46, but no one else did, so I suppose I must
      have imagined it. But then again, I didn’t turn up on time anyway”
      (Overheard quote)
And sometimes despair:
     “No interest in life or activities, in fact no interest in anything. Wants
      No. 52. Residents on about him needs shooting”
      (Notes from Application Form, - ’84)
Or: “Some of our members have even managed to not pay rent for months.
       (Rents are very low - £7 - £12 a week) So what is the problem?”
       (From Minutes)

Froddington Rd

Froddington Rd
Froddington Road Froddington Road

Between May and December ’85, the co-op had an experiment with ‘General Meeting’ structure. Management meetings were held 10 days before the General meeting, which had overall control.
In October ’85, a Special General Meeting was held to look at all aspects of our selection procedure. A Working Group was set up to look at this in relation to our change to full mutuality. Following our registration with the Housing Corporation in ’85, there had been pressure on us to bring our practice into line with our stated Rules. If we wished to continue with General Meeting structure, we would need a rule change. 
On 25.2.86, it was agreed to revert to the original Management structure.

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