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Local Legends: ChaCo

Published: 2/10/2023

Chapeltown Cohousing (ChaCo) is a social, co-housing project in Leeds and a brilliant example of how communities can create their own sustainable, low energy and low carbon affordable homes.

Back in 2017, Suma gave ChaCo a loan to help this amazing project create housing for 33 families. After an unforgettable 13 year roller coaster ride, and 5 years after getting planning permission, these homes are now ready for their shared owners and renters to move in. They enjoy shared living spaces, shared ownership, affordable housing and are run co-operatively.

Like Suma, ChaCo is run democratically by its members and we make all our decisions by consensus. People can’t readily understand how co-operative and cohousing models like Suma and ChaCo work. Some say it seems too good to be true, but here we are.

Co-operative is an ownership and management model, and cohousing is a type of community living. This may sound a bit confusing, because while some cohousing projects may choose to be co-ops, cooperatives are not necessarily cohousing.

A housing co-operative means that the houses are owned by the co-operative and all members have an equal say in the management of the housing, regardless of their share in the properties.

Cohousing means that members have their own private space with access to shared facilities like the shared garden and common house, with shared meals and collective decision making.

In most housing co-operatives members simply rent their houses from the co-op. ChaCo is a cohousing and a co-operative, but members own up to 99% of their home; our co-operative owns the land, our rented properties and a certain percentage of each house. This model protects our project from real estate speculations and secures its affordability for the long run.

Suma member Kari joined residents, friends and supporters of ChaCo at the opening day celebrations and had this to say “The community design allows for a quiet outdoor space, extensive growing areas as well as a communal indoor space. It’s hard to image that you are in the middle of inner-city Leeds”.

It’s sustainable too. The housing has been designed to meet AECB standard (Association for Environment Conscious Building), aiming to reduce overall CO² emissions by 70% compared to the UK average. They wanted the most energy-efficient homes they could afford, so went for a “fabric-first” solution with the emphasis on insulation and air-tightness, with waste heat recirculated via an MVHR system. So, although they’ll be burning fossil fuels, they’re anticipating a 70% reduction in carbon emissions compared with typical buildings of the same size.

Suma workers have a history of supporting and being part of housing co-operatives. Co-housing is a more sustainable way of living.” Ben Pearson, Suma’s Sustainability Reporting Coordinator.

The BBC made a programme about the families moving into the scheme – “33 Families, One Big Build” from their Our Lives Series but it’s, sadly, not currently available on iPlayer.

“Looking around ChaCo, shows what brilliant things a diverse group of ordinary people can achieve when we work cooperatively. Living here has transformed my life – a warm and spacious home, my first ever garden, and wonderful friends and neighbours for me and my child.” Riley, a resident at Chapeltown Cohousing

You can read more on their website.