How a squat in Falmouth became a housing cooperative – complete with artspace and the ultimate party venue
‘It’s scruffy, but it’s got soul and it’s raw. And it’s in the woods’
“A really stable, soulful community hub where regular events can happen that are beautiful and magic, and people feel whole,” is what Zoe Young ultimately wants for the Cottage Co-operative, which she effectively helped save. “About 12 or 13 years ago the place was squatted,” she tells me.
Bordering on Pendennis Point, it was somewhere to have parties, grow vegetables and be free, until last summer when the occupants at the time were notified that the company who owned it wanted to sell the place. “It turned out that they were willing to sell it to the community living here, but they had to do it and get the money together really quick, so they were like ‘shit, how do we do that?’”
Seeking community support, they organised a crowd funder and an appeal to anyone who was able to advance them – the same point at which Zoe inherited some money from the sale of her family home in London and was looking for someplace to have a studio. Life had gotten too hectic and she had to leave where she was. “I was kind of on the road,” she digresses. “I ended up in New Zealand by mistake.”
“Magically enough we came together and I was able to provide a loan, and they were able to save the place and set up a co-operative,” she says. There was something about the spirit of the place and the parties and the way people feel, that she felt needed to be maintained. “So many people when they come here, say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’ or, ‘Ah! I can breathe!’” For Zoe, the outcome has been a form of catharsis; she has discovered that maintenance is a form of art.
She admits the house has quite a reputation, and when I ask if social media has any involvement with organising the parties she says it’s mainly word of mouth. “Because in a way, the culture of this kind of place is something that existed before social media,” she expands. “People are always advertising events or whatever using social media and in a way you’re trying to recreate some of the spirit of what goes on here. But because it’s all mediated and it’s kind of digital and fluttery… sometimes it becomes more about surface image than reality.”
Events require a substantial amount of organisation and will need significantly more in the future (“We tend to not have them at the weekend because at the weekend too many people come”) but Zoe has a solution: “Rather than just having parties on a Thursday which no one wants, and raising the price which is what the mainstream capitalist society would do, what I think should be done is have more events.”
Tickets are a fiver each and pints are charged at three pounds. “We didn’t know how much money was going to be made and it’s a little haphazard financially for now,” she elaborates. “People were basically paid in beer and pizza.”
In the garden which faces the seafront are remnants of a small campfire and two stages where local bands performed the week before. Her dog – an energetic, four-year-old Dalmation she rescued – follows us about, and contributes to the humble and nurturing picture I already have of Zoe. She brings me to a bee hive. Either side of it are now pink flowers; together, a symbolisation of the cottage and a fitting depiction of what she described to me earlier on as “finding a good thing, and looking after it.”
“Art and ecology, these are the things that matter to me; being a part of the natural cycles and being aware of where and what we are as these human creatures, and making art about that.”