Friday, 31 July 2020

A lockdown garden project

One of the things we were most excited about when we first saw the new house was the garden. We couldn't actually see that much of it, since it was on a steep slope and completely overgrown with brambles which made it impossible to get more than a few meters across it. But it was south-facing with a sea view as far as Devon on a clear day, a palm tree in the middle of it and apparently much potential.

    
Day 1: the view of - and from - the garden

So one of the first priorities once we moved in was to hack back the brambles so we could get to the end of it, uncovering a steep slope littered with rocks, various bits of concrete and some vague semblence of a path.


We made it to the bottom of the garden

Early discoveries: the remains of an old stone lion - and a spot for the hammock

Despite finding a space for the hammock, there was still loads of hard graft to come, pulling out the stone and roots of all the undergrowth, and breaking up the soil so that we could build terraces to create more usable space.


Hard graft on the terracing

But with a bit of vision and a lot of hard work, we've ended up with a fabulous wall and some solid terraces which have incorporated an extra lawn and even a rockery! Since then, we've also added compost bins and a vegetable patch with a good crop of potatoes and a steady supply of greens at the bottom of the garden.

The new wall and rockery ready for planting

With lockdown meaning that we can't have guests visit inside the house, transforming the top part of the garden also became a priority when the rules relaxed enough to allow us to have visitors in the garden. We cleared, dug over and levelled the litter-strewn overgrown mess outside the front of the house and in a single afternoon, Ian and Jess laid meters of turf and relaid the path to create a beautiful lawn.

                                Before...                               ...and ready for turf
Add the turf...                          ...and enjoy the finished lawn!

We've ended up with a space right outside the house which is perfect for dinners, barbecues and hanging out with friends. With the on-going coronavirus restrictions, it's meant we've been able to hang out as a whole co-op, having socially-distanced meetings and even a birthday party with enough space to have everyone there at a safe distance.

The best uses for a garden
While there's still more we'd like to do with the space, we're really proud of what we've achieved in just a few months with virtually no budget but a whole lot of people power. We know we're really lucky to have access to outside space and the time, energy, skills and collective ownership to enable us to transform it, and feel blessed to have been able to create a space we can enjoy and nurture social connections at a time when that feels more important than ever.
 

- Christine

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Community In Lockdown

Times are interesting in the world at present, and these strange times have come at an already strange time for Golem. After almost 8 years existing only in our present house, in February we bought a second just across the road. The plan was for three of our existing members to move to the new house and for us to then look to fill the empty rooms in each, spreading the huge amount of knowledge we have as a group between the two houses and enabling some existing co-op members to move into spaces more suited for them. This would take us from housing 8 to housing 14 people (plus a dog, a cat and a business too).

It was a great plan which I firmly believed would work - but even then I had a lot of trepidation. Firstly I would be losing three housemates I’d lived with for between 2 and 12 years. They are my family and it was hard not to feel a sense of loss even though they were only moving across the road! I was also concerned about whether we would fill so many rooms at once. But I was also excited about the growth of the co-op, a project I have invested so much time and energy into, and I was looking forward to the injection of new people with their own ideas about how things should be done. Community is about being open to change and welcoming to compromise. Having such a large amount of new people joining at once felt like an amazing opportunity to invigorate Golem, ensuring it continued to grow and thrive.

The existing members thought a lot about how we would keep a sense of community and continuity between the two houses. How we would still eat together weekly, share meetings and work. It was important to us all to keep the culture of the co-op as well as forming new cultures in our respective houses. It also felt important to me to keep those relationships I had lived with for so long whilst enjoying forging new ones with the people I would not be living with.

And then, what felt like such a short time after having the keys to the new house, we were torn asunder. All those careful plans for how we would stay in each other’s lives on a daily basis put to one side for an unknown time by lockdown. No communal meals, no meetings at each other’s houses, no popping over to see what work has been done or needs doing, no lending a hand. The sudden break felt brutal.

As well as that, just before lockdown we welcomed two new housemates to the house I live in. Barely any time after they’d got their stuff through the door, this house became their world and the people in it the main people they could see in person. I cannot imagine going through such an enormous change but they have dealt with it amazingly. At the start of lockdown we also offered our spare room to a friend so they were not alone, and so in a matter of weeks we went from eight to five to eight again.

I’ve been missing the people who moved to the new house hugely (though we still say hello over the garden wall it is just not the same) but I'm also relishing the chance to bond as a household in such interesting times. At first I was concerned about how difficult it might be to fit our lives - and the challenging emotions that seem to go with lockdown - into the house. 8 people living in one house is busy even when everyone has a life outside! But what I have experienced has filled me with delight and a sense of calm and stability at home which would normally have taken a much longer time to develop when new members move in.

After 5 weeks or so of lockdown, the sense of being tuned in to each other’s moods and energy levels is strong, and seeing the tides of introversion and extroversion sweep through the house is fascinating. There have been times where we have all been doing things together (music, crafts, Tiger King!), times when everyone has kept themselves to themselves, and times when we have naturally come together to do different things in the same room at the same time. I treasure every shift, watching the rhythms of the new household emerge. There is energy being lavished on the garden, much thought going in to changes we wish to make to the communal areas to suit our new incarnation, and most importantly love and support growing between us. I am reminded every day of why living in community is so important to me, especially as I cannot be with so many of the other people I care most about.

When lockdown ends, there will be a new normal to create. I cannot wait to see what changes the other house have made, what new culture they have forged together, what plans they have made, how settled in they must now be. I can’t wait for us to share help and support and meals and meetings in person again - and hugs of course! But in the meantime I am relishing the chance to immerse myself in my household community, getting to know people on a level it could otherwise have taken years to achieve.

Community is always important to us all whether we recognise it or not. To me it seems like lockdown throws our need for it into stark relief, for many people bringing a desire for more of it in their day-to-day. What it has brought home to me is that community needs time, patience and compassion to develop. Lockdown has proved the perfect time to practice those things and I am, in a strange way, grateful.

- Hannah






Thursday, 30 April 2020

The basement

We've had the new house for over two months now, and although there's still plenty of work still to do, we've achieved loads - especially with the basement which we have now transformed from a functional but grim dumping ground to a fabulous new bedroom for Joe.

Before: the basement was a dumping ground 
with lovely fluorescent strip lighting and pipes everywhere

The only way we could afford to buy the house was having 6 bedrooms to rent out to members, and although when we came to look round the first time the house was advertised as having 5 bedrooms, we sussed out that the basement was pretty big and dry, and wondered if it could be used as a sixth bedroom. Some research when we got home established that, since it has large south-facing windows that lead into the garden which give adequate light levels and a means of escape for emergencies, there's no reason why the basement can't be used for this.

So within hours of moving in, we'd pulled down the crumbling ceiling and in the following week had the strip lights replaced with gentler spot lights, a radiator fitted and a load of superfluous pipes removed.

Day 1: ceiling destruction

We insulated the ceiling...

 Insulation!

...and put up new plasterboard, and then Ian and his mate did an awesome job of plastering it one night after work.

 
The new ceiling, pre- and post-plastering and painting

Then we liberally applied white paint to the ceiling and walls, and Ian put his floor-laying skills to work, covering the scruffy concrete with screed which Joe spent a weekend painting. By which point it looked a whole lot better.

The finished room - with cat

There was much hilarity moving all Joe's random stuff (including lifesized jester and pharaoh head) from the other house - just in time before our lovely new member Eve moved in and the UK went into coronavirus lockdown. And so Joe's double life between the two houses came to an end.

Moving house

After: the finished bedroom - with bed

And then with all the things!

 And so our first big project of the new house was complete. It's a great illustration of the power of community, as we did all of the major work ourselves, and only had outside help with the electrics and heating.

 Before  and  after    
 
In the next instalment, the garden...!

 - Christine

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

We bought another house!

It's been an exciting first couple of months to the year. In January we welcomed our newest member, Ian - and in February we finally got our new house so that he could actually move in!

The view from the new house (more pics here)

The first few weeks of being a two-house co-op have been a blur of ceiling destruction, key cutting, mould removal, painting things white, blagging free furniture, ceiling reconstruction, packing and unpacking - among many other things. Plus numerous trips back and forward between the two houses, which mercifully are only about 100m apart - although this includes a flight of about 50 steps.

 Ceiling destruction

We're still sharing evening meals between the two houses, so half the week we get to go out (to the other house) for dinner. Sometimes there are even enough chairs for everyone!

There's still loads to do, including finding the garden under the brambles, converting the garage into a gym and installing a sauna - but we'll get there. There is also a housewarming party in the pipeline - watch this space!


Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Ethical investment opportunity: help us buy our new house!

For years we have talked about how one day we would expand the co-op so we can provide more people with secure affordable housing - but until recently it had remained a pipe dream. Then a few weeks ago we discovered that a friend of a friend who has a house across the road from ours was selling up, and on investigation discovered that it would be the perfect place for us to expand to! 

So now we are buying it - and need to raise some money! 

What do we need the money for?
In a nutshell, to buy the house. We have applied to an ethical building society for a mortgage to cover 80% of the purchase price, but need to raise the other 20% (plus money to pay the solicitors, land transaction tax, survey etc) ourselves. As many of our members are on low incomes, we are looking for investors to lend us this money as loanstock - money lent to the organisation by individuals or other co-ops (usually) for a fixed term.

Why should you invest in Golem housing co-op?
You’ll be helping to provide good quality secure and affordable housing in Swansea - now and in future. We are also able to offer interest on the money you lend, so this is an ethical investment opportunity.

How does it work?
We would welcome any investment of £1,000 or over. The investment is for a fixed term between 5 and 20 years, although we can sometimes consider early repayment on request. If you can lend us money at 0% interest, this helps to keep our costs down - but we are also prepared to offer interest paid at any rate up to 2%. We are in the process of buying our new house so we are looking for offers of investment over the coming month (up until Friday 6 December). When we receive your investment, we will provide you with a loanstock certificate as evidence of your investment and its repayment terms. 

Please note that loanstock is an unsecured investment and you may decide to get independent financial advice before making any investment. However, housing co-ops very rarely go bust, and in the event that they do, any money recouped by the sale of the property can be used to pay back the loanstock investors once the mortgage was paid back.

How can I invest?
Drop us an email at golem.coop@gmail.com with details of how much you would be interested in investing and for how long, and we can send you our full terms of investment. We are also happy to answer any further questions you may have.


You may also be wondering:

What is Golem housing co-operative?
We are a housing co-op based in Mount Pleasant in Swansea. We were
formed in 2010 by a group of friends who were sick of renting poor quality
and insecure housing from (often) exploitative landlords and wanted to
work together to create a better alternative to house ourselves. In 2012 we
bought an eight-bedroom house which we have prevented from falling
down (literally) and made into a lovely and affordable home for seven
adults and a small person. Now we are expanding so we can house more
people and are very excited to have had an offer accepted on a second
house just across the road.


What is a housing co-op?
A housing co-op is registered not-for-profit organisation that exists to house
its members. All its residents are members (and so have a say in running
of the co-op) and all its members must be residents. The organisation is
run according to co-operative principles which give all members an equal
say (and equal responsibility) in managing their housing. If it should ever
cease to exist, its assets (such as any property it owns) must stay within
the co-operative movement - so members cannot profit from them.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

All the updates on the last three years!


Lots has happened in the last three years and there have been many exciting changes* which has resulted in us being able to expand to buy a new house! More on this soon...

*including two new members, a new roof, a dog, a cat and a piano.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

All The Updates On The Past Year

Since it's been over a year since our last blogpost I thought I'd drop in and give an update on what's happening at Golem. In this instance no news is most definitely good news - we've had a fantastically uneventful year in terms of the co-op and everything is ticking along nicely.

Developments in the House

Every living room should have a hammock :)
Our fabulous living room of fabulousness is still going strong - and in what is now a fine Golem tradition, still isn't quite finished. We've now had two summers where we could fling the doors open to the garden. We've had many dinners with friends and family where everyone could get up from the table without having to get a whole row of people to move out of the way. The stairs may not be carpeted yet, but we do have a hammock which makes all the kids who come visiting (both big and small) delighted. It's amazeballs.



Half installed!
The lovely wooden floor has had some teething problems though, rising into a big hump in the centre in warm weather. The damp air of of our basement living room seems to be to blame, so we're working on various remedial strategies at the moment. Firstly we're routinely running a dehumidifier overnight to try to keep the damp down. Secondly we're fitting a cooker hood in the kitchen so that when cooking we're not adding too much extra moisture to the air. Thirdly we're looking at adding more ventilation to the two sealed up chimney stacks in the room. It's difficult working out how to help an old house, so we're trying multiple strategies.

In other parts of the house not much has changed, except that we're currently in the process of re-roofing the oriel window on the ground floor front bedroom. We had planned to do this when all the other roofs (eventually) get sorted but it developed a hefty leak and had to be dealt with sooner. Ironically finishing the roof is being held up by the rain this week, but soon it will be done. Almost every timber had to be replaced which is giving us a more realistic idea of just how expensive doing the other six roofs may end up being.

The garden has gained a pond (to the top right of the patio in this picture) and fully completed paving and has generally levelled up in fabulousness this year. Only the building of the green roofed shelter remains to be implemented from the permaculture design and the garden is serving it's various purposes well. It's certainly produced a lot of pumpkins this year, and there are two pears on one of the cordons for the first time :) We may redesign the lawn area after the shelter is built as it's not getting as much use as hoped, but generally the design has been a success.

Other News

Our members haven't changed at all in the last few years which is a great testament to the living situation here. Previously our plans for expansion included buying more houses locally, but Sven is spearheading a much more bold plan for an intentional ecovillage run on co-op lines. If you'd like more information or to be involved, pop along to the website or Facebook page to see what the haps are.

We're still happy to meet people interested in the co-op movement and to help with the setting up of any fledging co-ops within travelling distance. As members of Radical Routes we have the privilege of receiving support and wisdom from a lot of other co-ops - in fact, we couldn't do it without them - so if you're interested in starting a co-op, please come and pick our brains! 

- Hannah
There are now 3 sets of forks on the fan-trained plum tree