“ONE of the things I’m most proud of is we participate in our local area. We’re not ‘that commune down the street’. Our neighbours like us, the church like us. We’re an integral part of the community.” 

As a new academic year approaches, thousands of students bound for Scottish universities will have been scouting around for accommodation hit with costs that are becoming increasingly difficult to afford or justify.  

A survey suggested earlier this month that Edinburgh is the most expensive place for students to live with people working more part-time jobs compared with the UK average to try and pay their way. 

According to the NatWest student living index – which uses income and living costs to determine affordability – Edinburgh scored 0.74, far more than the UK average of 0.45. 

Members of the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative (EHSC) – the UK's largest student housing co-operative – are all too aware of the pricey landscape in the capital and are providing a low-cost option for those who want to have more control over their home life. 

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Languages student Alex Morzeria-Davis, who has been a member for a year, said: “Edinburgh is an awful market.  

“Demand is very much concentrated into one area, which is the area where you can walk to university basically. If you have George Square and think about everywhere you can get to in 20 mins, that’s where all the demand is in the city and there’s not really enough supply. 

“There will be four-bed flats but then you have to find three other people and the cost is insane. An average bedroom is probably £650 in Marchmont.” 

Cheaper rent, more responsibility

The rent for members of the co-op – which was set up in 2014 and is based at Wright’s House next to Bruntsfield Links – is just £374 a month including bills and students are fully responsible for managing the property collectively.

The buildings themselves are owned by a housing administration but are leased to the co-op and when students become members, they are essentially buying a share in the co-op, with every one of the 106 members having a specific responsibility – such as maintenance or IT for example – to ensure the operation runs smoothly. 

“The central aim is to provide cheap, stable, secure – and importantly – good housing,” said Morzeria-Davis, 23. 

The National: Students collectively buy loo roll which is stored in the basement Students collectively buy loo roll which is stored in the basement (Image: NQ)

“One of the things we miss out a lot is that it is good housing. This isn’t about to crash down on your head and is not mouldy like a lot of the student housing I’ve seen in Edinburgh. The view is amazing too.” 

Everywhere you look and whoever you speak to, doing things collectively and being a part of the community is key to life and the different approach is paying off in terms of how the people in the area perceive students. 

Morzeria-Davis explained: “Bills are all collectivised. Some flats use more, some people have fridges for medicines, some people have absolutely nothing and are really frugal with energy, but by collectivising energy – I think £80 to £90 a month goes on utilities – if you do have an extra energy need you’re not penalised for it.  

“You can be fined at University of Edinburgh housing if you use an inordinate amount of energy. 

“One of the things I’m most proud of too is we participate in our local area. We’re not ‘that commune down the street’. Our neighbours like us, the church like us. We’re an integral part of the community.” 

'It feels like home'

When you look out the window of some of the kitchens, a stunning view of Arthur’s Seat and Bruntsfield Links – featuring the world’s first public golf course – stands in front of you and students speak about it as if it is their home, not a temporary place to stay while away from their families studying. 

“This is the first place in Edinburgh I’ve been able to settle down and feel at home in,” said Morzeria-Davis. 

“The cheap rent isn’t actually the biggest draw for me. I wanted somewhere that felt like a home and it’s a proper place to live.” 

The National: The co-op has several principles at its heart, one of which is to play a part in the communityThe co-op has several principles at its heart, one of which is to play a part in the community (Image: NQ)

As well as taking responsibility for things like repair of appliances – which would fall to one of a group of maintenance responders who would be reimbursed through the co-op – members are able to decorate their space as they wish and have a DIY attitude, with many choosing to put their own flooring in place for example, which adds to the feeling of independence for residents. 

A consensus-based approach

And when it comes to decision-making, everyone feels they have a voice. 

Evie Bell, who has lived in the co-op for just over a year while studying history of art and literature at Edinburgh, said: “We are 100% consensus run, which I don’t think all co-ops are. With all co-ops you’re meant to have a say, but we go one step further with being consensus-based, so all major decisions are put to a general meeting.” 

Morzeria-Davis added: “We have quite a strong consensus system where we have a single member veto, so if any one person out of 106 vehemently disagrees with something, they can veto it and it doesn’t happen.” 

A creative queer space

ESHC has also become a vital space for those in the LGBTQ community who can feel as if they don’t quite fit in at other student housing. 

Drag shows and life drawing are just some of the activities that take place at ESHC, with a variety of events held in an award-winning multi-use room in the basement which hosts gigs and exhibitions as well as housing a library.   

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Bell, 22, added: “It’s such a community hub. During the Fringe we have had at least one drag show a week in the basement. Anyone can perform if you apply to the drag house, anyone can come along.  

“We also have life drawing. We recently had an arts festival, and we’ve had a few exhibitions. 

“It’s a creative queer space and we’re able to be a space for vegan society for example too.  

“I moved in after my first year and so I’ll spend at least three years here. I struggled in my first year after moving here from France, but I came here and there were people interested in sustainability, a lot of queer people, and there’s always something to do even for those with the most niche interests.  

“Me and my friends have a spinners circle where we make wool together, which makes me feel like I’m part of the community.”