It’s not the usual student experience to gain valuable new life skills simply through sharing a house with other students. But that’s Fay Arnold’s experience – thanks to living in a student housing co-op. And it’s one she’s more than pleased with.

“The amount of DIY, admin and finance knowledge I’ve learned, it’s amazing. I can reasonably do most simple DIY with no sweat now. It’s something I’m really happy about. And they’re skills I can use for my own quality of life further down the line, and to offer to other people,” she says.

Fay is a 22-year-old Computer Systems Engineering Student at the University of Birmingham. Like the rest of the students in her housing co-op, she’s responsible for the upkeep and running of the house. And it’s a responsibility that’s inspired her to care about the environment she lives in.

“I’ve learned a lot of my new skills through necessity, but also through a personal desire to improve the house. I was expecting to do DIY – it’s expected of incoming tenants. But I didn’t expect to learn so much. And I didn’t expect to want to improve the house. I didn’t feel that way in private rented student accommodation. But I do here because it makes it better for everyone.”

For Fay, the sense of community she feels in the housing co-op positively impacts her life too. “From a mental health perspective – being connected to other people, socialising and communicating with them, they’ve become part of my support network. I’ve made a lot of really close friends through this house. I’d need a couple more hands to count them all on,” she smiles.

“Living in a student co-op house is great for your self-motivation, and for reaching out and involving yourself with other people,” she continues. “For example, if we have work to do on the house, we can invite friends to come over and help. There are a couple of other housing co-ops in this street – with former students who used to live here, so it’s easy to get people involved.

“We also have a projector in the living room and can offer the space to other people, almost as an event space. There have been activist meetings. And the Birmingham Bike Foundry – a local bike repair co-op – did a presentation here.”

As well as her skills and social life – Fay’s health benefits from co-op living, as she explains: “I sometimes struggle with appetite because of my medication, so having regular house meals together means I’m eating properly. And I feel like I cook better when I cook for other people, so I eat and cook more healthily.

“Now I’m trying to influence other students into co-operative living. There are so many bonuses. The sense of community is really helpful. I’ve met so many people, it’s been a boom.”

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