Two Piers Housing Co-operative began in 1978, when our founder Brenda Boardman realised the need for single parent housing in Brighton. Co-ops were still fairly new and there was no development agency in Brighton, so we joined one of the first Secondaries in the country, the Society for Co-operative Dwellings, based in Stockwell. Two Piers was registered as a housing association in 1979.
At the time, shared housing was considered a health risk, as individuals living together were not considered to be a household, and consequently there was no ‘head of the household’ who would ensure the safety of the occupants. In 1979 Two Piers instigated a public inquiry to resolve this issue, which resulted in a change in the planning bye-laws, and paved the way for the co-operative development of shared dwellings nationwide. Providing a large kitchen with two cookers in it, and two toilets for six people became the basis of shared development.
In 1981, we took handover of our first properties. Our first two houses were at Major Close, an old eight bedroom ex-council children’s home in Hollingdean, and a 6 bedroom terraced house in Margaret Street. They were ‘rehabbed’ as a joint scheme, and represented a major step forward in housing opportunities for young single people and lone parents. In 1982 squatters living at the Nook in Lovers Walk approached Two Piers to see if we could help them save the house and them from the Compulsory Purchase Order arising from the proposed railway development. We bought the house in 1984.
As early as 1979 we were already dreaming of New Build. The Diocese of Chichester was looking for a community minded buyer for the site of the burnt out church on Montpelier Rd. A co-operative was their preferred choice, Two Piers bought the land in 1982, and began a journey like no other – working with an architect on the design, with our development agency Society for Co-operative Dwellings, with the Housing Corporation on co-op regulation (the co-op was going to double in size and the Corporation insisted we change our governance structure to executive committee management), surviving the builder’s bankruptcy, and being rewarded with about £5,000 from the Housing Corporation under the old and long defunct Bonus Rent scheme.
Christchurch officially reached Practical Completion in January 1988. While building Christchurch we were also developing an eight bedroom terraced house on Oriental Place, again licensed before rehab, and a very large house on Eastern Rd, now converted into 7 flats (this house used to be a home for ‘fallen women’ a hundred years ago. We have the photos to prove it!) Eastern Rd is very special because it was one of only two houses in the country to slip through the moratorium on the sale of property at its residual loan value, in 1987. But as the legal department in the council didn’t know and exchanged contracts with us. So it slipped through the net, and we bought it for £4,850! Which meant we had over £300,000 to spend on beautifying it.
In the thirty years since founding, the co-op has gone through many changes, but has never lost sight of the original ideals of the founders: fairness, democracy and consensus are the foundation of Two Piers’ tenacity and the reason it has survived. Everyone debates and argues of course, but we have established over the years that emotion in meetings while trying to make decisions is not at all helpful, and we conduct ourselves with a great degree of decorum and patience. We have learned that we all make mistakes, and we should just try to put things right and not beat ourselves up about it. We still make occasional mistakes. But we also have incredibly lucky circumstances, as all our property was developed under the old pre-1988 funding regime, so the mortgages are very low, we are registered in our own right as an ownership co-op, and we have attracted into our membership over the years some of the best co-operators in the country.
Two Piers was one of the founding co-ops of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, which replaced the old National Federation of Housing Co-ops in 1993. Two Piers made several hefty contributions towards the founding of the CCH, and we spent many months stuffing envelopes to gather the movement together again after the NFHC folded. With the Bonus Rent money we acquired the Co-op loaned start up funds to register new co-ops, which grew into the local network, Co-operative Housing in Brighton & Hove (CHIBAH).
Two Piers continually evolves, the membership changes, the ambience transforms, always on a learning curve, but we’re still here! Long live co-operative housing, long live Two Piers!