The town that danced in the face of ecological breakdown; is becoming a Distributed CO-OP (DisCO) a way to better serve the community?

In the face of multi breakdowns and crisis one town in East Sussex has taken community wealth building to a whole new level, they are becoming a DisCO. It is not necessarily something that you might expect from a town and indeed I can here yourself asking the question, How does that help anything? But, as we look further into what is happening, we can see that a whole load of difference is being made.
It might also be a surprise to see how this county town has taken cooperative principles, applied them across the entire town and is supporting all residents to come together and govern the areas that they are interested in. It might also surprise you to hear that the mandate for this way of life has been with us since the very dawn of time. Distributed networks are everywhere, they work as symbiotic structures that connect and weave through all life, they are how our bodies work, how the universe becomes and how all ecosystems flow.
From food procurement to housing, transport to energy, there is not a single area of life that has not been considered. At the heart of everything is strong governance, and before you stop reading, all this really means is everyone is able to participate in decisions, through people assemblies, if they choose to.
The town is working to embed a culture that is supportive, nurturing, based around reciprocity and, essentially, circular. You can eat anytime at the ‘pay what you can’ community canteen; locally grown and sourced produce, you can grow food in one of the coops spaces, you can have food delivered by e-cargo bike to your door, you can hop in a DisCO car, live in a DisCO house and you can be part of the process for making new services come to life. Even the local authority and the district council can become involved in the process, through procuring services from the coop; supporting vulnerable and isolated individuals, environmental management and a number of community programmes.
assorted-color concrete houses under white clouds during daytime
As houses, shops or any spaces come up for sale, the town, as a community is buying them so that they can best serve the wider community.
You can invest in the town too! As a resident you can help build the community that you want to be part of, weather you have £10 or £100,000, the town has created an internal credit union that can then use the investment to support further regenerative practices and processes. One such initiative, is co-housing. This open source blue print could spread anywhere and indeed, the essence of the DisCO, is that it does.
“Everyone is part of DisCO, its how their bodies work, how the universe operates and how all life exists, the crazy thing and irony, in many ways, is that humans don’t apply this to how they organise”

The town is the home of a couple of existing coops, including co-housing. Local co housing group Future Folk Sussex, have been working over the past few years to change the way that housing is envisioned. Unlike many co-housing coops there has been a radical approach to developing the reach to bring existing properties into the coop, through their multi-site approach to the mutual home ownership model introduced by the New Economics Foundation in 2018 and with mandate from their agenda for change and the DisCO manifesto, also 2018, this town is really upping their game as a transition town.
There are a number of key points that are well worth considering when it comes to the built environment here and they are all around the idea of looking after local spaces for residents, ensuring that both residential and commercial is cared for in a way that recognises its future potential for new generations.
green leaf in close up photography
Being in a conservation area, with many elderly and historic buildings, one of the key areas for the town to consider was how to preserve buildings that are privately owned, without relying upon the residents themselves to take on the burdens of project management, historic building control, planning policy and frameworks and, of course, cost.
When you look at these issues as an individual, they can become overwhelming, but once you start to imagine these through the lens of community, it becomes a whole different ball game. Let me just pick one particular benefit of this community ownership process. If work needs to be undertaken on a residential building and the residents need to be accommodated else where for the duration, if you already own another property, as the town do, you can move the residents temporarily into that space, complete the work, move them back and then move onto the next property.
This might sound quite new as a concept, but it is essentially what is done in social housing and with anyone who has wealth.
Essentially, what this means is that community owned houses are well looked after, trades people are supported, because they are part of the COOP too, and no one has to worry about over pricing or poor quality or unworkable timelines. These projects are not rushed and can therefore can incubate a sense of craft work and care.
One of the biggest difference in this town is that they operate a universal basic pay for all members of the coop. Along with this, housing, food, health, travel, and energy costs of the members are paid for by the coop, this mean that life essentials are afforded to all the members and the growing membership is a testament for this way of living.
Much like a family household might distribute resources amongst the family, making sure that their needs are being met, this coop is applying this across the community, which mean that scale economies are also easily realised when compared to a small group, like an individual family.
Members of the coop also have more time afforded to them! Because when you live in space that isn’t charging the earth, you don’t have to generate as much to pay for it!

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