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Sustainable Benefits to Communal Living

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Almost all students will be familiar with communal living, with most of us experiencing overpriced halls with strangers in first year and slightly more affordable shared-housing with friends for the rest of our degrees. Is there any reason then that we can’t continue these living situations once our studies have ended? I propose that there are benefits to doing so, both to the individuals involved and in terms of sustainability and that in the current financial situation of many young people, it might be a necessity.

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Everyone has heard of horror stories of people with their flatmates; but most people will have hopefully learnt how to live in a shared space successfully, how to work around differing schedules (both social and work/study related) and how to share space. This article discusses the pros and cons of communal living.


The Benefits


When talking about sustainable housing, you may think of purpose-built eco-homes, greywater recycling, retro-fitting, renewable energy sources etc. These are by no means bad ideas, and where accessible to people I think they should be adopted.


For most young people (and a lot of older people too) these simply aren’t realistic. The ability to choose an energy supplier and not settle with the cheapest available is a luxury. Purpose built homes are very expensive (buying any home probably seems like an impossibility) again, the luxury of choice is not available. When finishing uni many students have to move back home; if lucky enough to be able afford to live somewhere the decision will be based upon price, not on the environmental footprint.


Many retrofit options are very expensive, even the cheaper options available require that you own a home which is obviously not suitable for students in rented accommodation. What can students who are skint and interested in living sustainably do then? Although it seems to be rarely discussed, living in a shared house is incredibly sustainable as opposed to living individually.


Appliances


By sharing a kitchen, the people living in the house only need one of each appliance. This means that only one of each needs to be produced and as a household, the contribution to the production emissions involved is much lower. There are also financial benefits. For example, a group of six people would be able to purchase something twice as expensive as an individual whilst each spending three times less money. Buying something of greater quality has the additional benefit of lasting a lot longer (not needing to replace stuff as regularly is of course also more sustainable).


This sort of shared sustainability applies outside of the kitchen as well, any household appliance can be bought in better quality although at a reduced price for everyone. The principle of sustainability through sharing could be extended. For example, a block of flats or street of homes could purchase tools communally and keep them in a communal cupboard available to everyone. This would be at a really low cost to everyone involved but they will all have access to high-quality equipment whenever they do need it. This of course relies on cooperation but may have the added benefit of getting people talking to their neighbours and building community.


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Energy usage


Providing people eat at reasonably the same time, this can provide a reduction in energy usage, from only boiling the kettle once for everyone’s morning brew, to cooking a few peoples dinner in the oven at the same time. If people get on well enough and schedules match up then they could even cook and eat communal meals together.


This massively saves energy, wear and tear on cooking appliances and most likely food waste too. Energy savings can also be found in the rest of the house as heating and lighting can be shared too.


Money


People sharing will need to spend less on appliances and use less energy. Rent on house-shares is also generally cheaper than when trying to rent a flat individually. This makes sense since although you’ll have a bedroom (and maybe even a bathroom) each, you will be renting the kitchen/living space as a group and won’t have to pay as much as if you had one each.


Mutual support


Living with other people provides a large support network. Sharing the same experiences can be particularly helpful for students dealing with similar stresses e.g. university or financial pressures. This support network can of course benefit people once they have left university too and living communally may prevent people from feeling isolated.


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Housing Co-ops


Some of these ideas can be expanded from house-sharing into housing co-ops, which are larger intentional communities set-up and run by their members. These range from large homes, large blocks of flats and even some small villages. Often made up of private flats, homes or at least bedrooms and then shared communal spaces.


Although the energy savings I have mentioned may not always apply (apart from in the communal spaces), the principles of sharing and mutual support can. Housing co-ops should also provide affordable places to live and by not having a landlord are less precarious and should feel more secure to those involved.


Co-housing is not a new phenomenon, and many successful co-housing projects have existed for a long time. You can read more on this here.


Student Housing Co-ops


There is no reason that students shouldn’t be able to live in these more autonomous and secure housing situations throughout their time at university. This has been recognised and there is a student housing co-op movement throughout the UK. Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative is a particularly successful example, providing affordable accommodation to 106 students and with all members of the co-op taking part in the maintenance and management of the properties.


There are also operational student housing co-ops set up in Sheffield and Birmingham, with groups looking to start in other cities across the country (most groups are easily found on Facebook). If there isn’t a group in your city maybe you could find like-minded people and start one, some useful information can be found on the students coop site.


So, whether it’s continuing to house-share after uni or being involved in a co-operative, I think that through sharing we have a financially accessible way live to more sustainably whilst also supporting one another and hopefully really enjoying the experience.


About the Author: Matthew Jones is a second year student at Liverpool John Moores University, studying a BSc in Wildlife and Conservation.

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