Arts Collective and Housing Co-operative Aspiring for Social and Environmental Equality in Edinburgh’s Pentland Hills.

Speaking to two strong and visionary women – active members of Bruadair Housing Cooperative (a group of eight adults and five children) and both alumni of the renowned Glasgow School of Art – Jenny and Sula share their stories on how they are working towards a sustainable lifestyle project, using art, craft, communal living and wellbeing, as vices for their green, and somewhat utopian vision.

I joined Bruadair for the family like love. This is the radical social change that needs to be remembered in our society and around the world – Interdependence.

-Sula

What does sustainable living mean to you both?

Jenny It goes far beyond, for example, buying ‘ethical’ local produce or putting solar panels on your house. It means creating a systematic change in our culture, our government, our laws and our values. The current economic climate is important to mention for me when discussing these concepts. I believe capitalism and sustainability can never work together because capitalism is built on progress and excessive growth.

Sula It means living holistically. Or as a whole. Taking care of your own body, your own mind and your own spirit. Perhaps because humans have lost touch with each other, they have lost touch with nature, which is really key for our survival, as animals. Sustainability to me, is therefore connection.

When we talk about sustainability, it conjures up images of wind farms, solar panels, plastic free straws and tuna tins with dolphin friendly logos on the can. But let’s not forget that sustainability doesn’t end there…

-Jenny

[Another inspiring interviewee touches upon this concept: Teaching yoga and Practicing Sustainability.]

Why did you decide to set up a legally registered housing co-operative?

Jenny – The cost of housing in Scotland (and the rest of the UK ) is so high, many people of my generation can no longer afford to buy property. I wanted more security than renting allows, and to live the way I choose; part of a community. Starting a co-op also means taking property off the market, to ensure it doesn’t become another asset to a wealthy land owner. It means not paying rent to someone who already has more than enough. [Jenny recommends a Guardian article about Unhealthy Land ownership in Scotland FYI- 70% of Scotlands rural land is owned by Highland lairds and public bodies (eg The Forestry Enterprise and The National Trust).

Sula – I made the decision to join Bruadair for the family-like love everyone has for one another. And to be around people who trust each other and can depend on each other. To simply be there. This is the radical social change that needs to be remembered in our society and around the world – Interdependence.

What responsibilities do you each have for your living arrangements?

Jenny – We try to make sure everyone pulls their weight – sharing chores, tasks and carrying the mental load of managing a busy household. The biggest responsibility we have is each other – ensuring everything feels fair, everyone feels heard and everyones needs are met. This emotional responsibility is the priority for me; doing the leg work behind the scenes to maintain community spirit, in a culture of individualism.

Sula – We are currently now an unhoused co-op. (Ironically, the landlord of Hillside, Bruadair’s base, gave the tenants their notice). On paper I could disappear at any time. Emotionally, and on a human level, I have a responsibility to tell the other people in the house if I am going to leave. This essentially means my life in the current house depends on people being “ok” with things. This is both reassuring, because other people might have insight on something I haven’t thought of – but also restrictive – I cant do things freely, because of their preferences. This connects to the unwritten contract of responsibilities. 

What about life outside the co-op? Tell me more…

Jenny – Things are changing all the time. I feel like a different person now to when we started the co-op three years ago. Bruadair has been a big part of my future vision, so I don’t really see life inside and outside the co-op as separate things. I’ve been having some long term health struggles, so much of what I’m doing right now is about keeping my head above water through self employment and managing Bruadair [Jenny also works at a health food co-operative New Leaf Co-op].

Sula – I have many other homes. I have many other families and opportunities to explore. Bruadair is a long term thing. That is not to say it has been easy. In fact, nothing about Bruadair has been easy. It can often feel like walking through thigh high mud, which can be disheartening. It has been a steep learning curve though, and good to work on.

What about housing, communities, education, employment, popular culture, health care and wealth distribution? What does a truly sustainable culture, actually look like?

-Jenny

What are the pros and cons of communal living?

Jenny – It’s not so much about pros and cons for me, it’s more about different ways of being, living or doing. For example, a pro might be that there’s always someone around, yet a con to that; privacy is hard to come by. Sometimes I find people very difficult to be around, but it challenges me to look within myself for answers (a pro). One of my big ones is mess. I hate mess and clutter, especially when it’s not mine, but I also find a messy room filled with people much more enjoyable than an immaculate room that’s empty.

Sula –  PROS: – Family, love, bringing up kids, safety, like minded people, fun, trips away, creativity, steep learning curves, problem solving, cooking together, eating together, long term community, learning from each others first hand trial and error. CONS: Arguments, people’s shit, facing your pain and your crap, projection.

A housing co-op is creating a space where people can have security and autonomy.

-Jenny

What plans are in the making for the future of Bruadair?

Jenny – Buying land is the big one. It’s the whole reason we started the co-op, yet also feels like the biggest hurdle. We need to secure funds, a pretty huge sum of money. But for when that happens, we do have some specific dreams. We want to build an Iron Age round house, keep sheep and pigs (not for eating), have a badass herb garden, have babies, host a wee festival, make a gypsy caravan, plant an orchard, start coppicing… etc, etc.

Sula – Buying land together, as Jenny mentioned, and building a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle for us and the community around us.

Bruadair will hopefully be a microcosm of what a fair and equal society should look like, where people live as a community and help each other.

-Jenny

What other things are worth a mention?

Jenny – Sustainability is one of the key ideas within the ‘Seven Co-Operative Principles’ – A set of values defining how a co-op should function. The co-operative structure is tailor made to provide solutions against the capitalist narrative, which arguably many problems stem from . Co-operatives work for sustainable development within their communities, through policies supported by their members. When we talk about sustainability, it conjures up images of wind farms, solar panels, plastic free straws and tuna tins with dolphin friendly logos on the can. But let’s not forget that sustainability doesn’t end there… What about housing, communities, education, employment, popular culture, health care and wealth distribution? How do we make those issues sustainable? What does it mean when we do? What does a truly sustainable culture, actually look like? What does a sustainable government look like?


There was that-person-whose-name-I-can’t-remember who said : ‘Laws are like fishing nets which catch all the little fish and let the big ones through,’I think being part of a co-op, and the wider co-operative movement, can give you more leverage to challenge that power dynamic.

If you’re interested in Bruadair’s story or would like to know more information, visit their website and contact them @ Bruadair Housing Co-operative Website

Check out their arts services @ Inspiral Arts

If you’re based in Edinburgh, or happen to be visiting, head to New Leaf Health Food Co-op in Marchmont (very central) to support the co-operative ethos, whilst purchasing delicious, healthy food.

Root Stock is a social investment society that accepts ethical investments to then later fund Radical Routes, a network of co-ops across the UK.

Jenny recommends visiting, Is a Co-op right for you?, if you’re interested about cooperatives