In the 1960s and ’70s in Ireland, growing numbers of young couples sought access to affordable home-ownership. Inspired by the success of the credit union movement, which took off in Ireland in the 1950s, young people began to look towards the co-operative model to help fulfill their housing needs. Small, self-help co-operatives began to be formed to aid families in getting access to development sites, procuring architects and builders and securing finance for their new homes.

NABCO, the National Association of Building Cooperatives Society Ltd, was formed in 1973 to assist new co-operatives by providing model rules, offering expert guidance in development and delivery and promoting the co-operative model as a solution to housing needs. From the 1980s on, NABCO began to support the development of rental housing co-operatives, providing specialist advice to local co-operatives to support them to acquire sites, raise finance and deliver the construction of new co-operative housing projects.

Today 2,000 families live in co-operative rented homes spread across seven local co-operative housing societies, while 3,500 co-operative homes for ownership have been developed through these societies.

The co-operative model is uniquely flexible in the Irish housing market, having provided private ownership, shared ownership and affordable rented homes. The openness of co-operatives to partnership opportunities has helped to expand the sector through work with state agencies, private finance, credit unions and local and religious organisations.

Co-operative housing contributes to the development of balanced, sustainable communities by diversifying the housing market and by ensuring the delivery of quality housing management through strong member oversight.

Co-operative housing in Ireland is strongly influenced by the co-operative principles, notably democratic member control. In giving communities a real say over the issues that matter to them, co-operative housing empowers its members to become leaders for their communities. The principles of self-help and co-operation among co-operatives have led to efficiencies and enhanced service to our members.

At Avondale Park in Dublin, families have recently moved into 217 state-of-the-art new homes. This major new development has been delivered by NABCO in partnership with the local cooperative, NABCO Dublin West. The site was provided for cooperative housing by the local authority, Fingal County Council, and provides homes of outstanding design quality with features such as solar-powered hot water. The solar array at Avondale Park is the largest private installation of renewable energy yet undertaken in Ireland.

The new community also features its own new purpose-built childcare service located on the central green. NABCO also provides affordable co-operative childcare through four specialist childcare and community services. As well as providing a distinctive form of childcare, through partnerships between staff, children, parents and the community, the services contribute to community development by freeing parents to pursue employment and educational opportunities.

Following the collapse of Ireland’s property bubble, the country has been left with a legacy of up to 300,000 empty homes. New developments for co-operative housing, therefore, seem increasingly likely to come from existing unfinished or unoccupied housing estates. NABCO was invited by the Irish government to be part of a special advisory group on the issue and co-operative housing was strongly endorsed as a potential solution for such estates across the country.

NABCO is now piloting a number of innovative partnerships on a national basis, including in Maple Woods, County Cork, an area of high housing demand where affordability is still a challenge. In tackling unfinished housing estates NABCO is working closely with state and local agencies to promote youth employment, particularly in the area of construction, which was badly effected by the downturn in the Irish housing market.