Diary: 'Maybe I'm learning to chill out?'

IssueFebruary - March 2023
Comment by Cath

Back in November, I finally stopped paying rent to Cornerstone Housing Co-op in Leeds and moved my remaining things to a rented house in Bentley (Doncaster) – rented not by me, but by A Commune in the North. How did that feel? Well, having dragged it out for nearly a year, moving over in dribs and drabs and staying in Bentley for days or weeks at a time, it didn’t feel like a big deal – much more like a relief that my crap has all finally been cleared out (well, you know, mostly).

But it is a big deal for lots of other people, particularly those who haven’t really known anyone else in the co-op except me for years now. For an enormous number of people, Cornerstone is one of the few stable parts of their psycho-geography, having been around for 30 years this year.

It’s one of those places that makes you feel kind of comfortable knowing it’s still there. And their mental image of Cornerstone includes me, so, for them, it’s a loss of something intangible, a connection to earlier parts of themselves.

Last weekend, I tried to get sentimental/nostalgic with a big ‘goodbye and thank you’ to Leeds and Chapeltown, but in the end I was just too busy to worry about doing anything other than inviting people over for shared food and comfy chairs – no speech, no presentation about the commune, no photos of 30 years in the area, just chatting and eating and kids playing with duplo. Maybe I’m learning to chill out? Or maybe I’m just running out of energy.

Of course, I haven’t cut all ties – I’m still lurking on the email list and chat groups, chipping in with historical maintenance knowledge or calendar reminders every now and then. Sometimes even correctly.

The last year has been very difficult for Cornerstone – a big factor holding me there was how low the co-op was on members paying rent and bills and doing the work, as well as how many of those members had only been there a year or less.

It seemed negligent to leave. I’ve witnessed both housing co-ops and worker co-ops collapse after long-term members move on. It would be bad enough, just as a community member who loves the place, to make life more difficult for them, but frankly weird and inexplicable as a co-op activist and advisor.

But we’ve got some cracking new members now, exciting and capable members who’ll pick it all up before too many balls get dropped. And I’m still going back every so often – I can’t stop myself.

I’m here as I write, in one of the empty bedrooms – applications for membership welcome!

This tail-end of transitioning won’t last that long though… the new life in Bentley is getting busier and more demanding. My hope that my new communard comrades will immediately join in with all my other projects, thus making the work on them more inspiring and exciting (and productive) has not quite come to pass – in fact they keep trying to get me to join in with their projects and coming up with new ones. Hmm. I guess that was entirely foreseeable.

We’ve planned in weekly education/induction sessions, bi-weekly workdays and weekly meetings, we’ve signed up to a six-week course on global transitions to agro-ecology, there are newsletters, flyers and posters to create, events to book, workshops to plan, bookkeeping to set up, business ideas to develop, houses to buy and new people to talk to. We want to do regular film-showings, host weekly games afternoons and vegan potlucks (as well as cooking together most lunch-times) as well as connecting the commune with a new Sheffield Earth First! Group, the Sheffield Food Hall, the Kurdish Solidarity Network, the Zapatista Solidarity Network, the DiY Alliance across the North, Co-ops UK, the workers.coop federation, Radical Routes, the Landworkers’ Alliance.… I’m wondering if we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.

Last Sunday’s education was on transformative justice and developing a healthy culture of conflict engagement. We all agreed that it has to be a priority for members to engage proactively with difference, disagreement and hurt, and to work on recognising and changing their own reactions to internalised oppressions and past traumas.

We noted that this was a big commitment and would require time. More time.

Then there’s the time in upskilling, working at the farm and, somehow, still doing our current paid work to pay the bills.

At some point, we’ll have to remind ourselves of the definition of the word ‘priority’.

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