On a drizzly summer afternoon, the former Rising Sun pub is a picture of urban domestic contentment. Coffee is being made and mugs handed around, a fluffy cat snoozes on the rug, and a group of friends are settled down on a huge, scruffy corduroy sofa.
They look like exactly what they are: a group of arty mainly twenty-somethings who are in London to forge a career in music, art or design.
They have spent the past eight months putting together a £1 million-plus bid to buy The Rising Sun, a converted Victorian pub near Queen’s Road, Peckham, so that they — and future generations — can continue to live in an increasingly extortionate city.
“We take turns at being 100 per cent confident that this is our forever home, and thinking that it is never going to work,” says Talia Pittman, 24, who is studying for a PhD in neuroscience.
If she hadn’t found The Rising Sun, Pittman suspects she would still be living at home with the folks. “I’m lucky to have parents here, but otherwise I wouldn’t be able to live in London at all,” she says.
This story began six years ago when musician Scott Bowley, now 32, was still a student at Goldsmiths, University of London. He and six friends were looking for a house share — all were studying either art or music and they were really hoping to find somewhere with enough space to set up a recording studio they could work in.
They found the pub, and in 2015 they moved in, creating a studio and rehearsal space in the slightly musty basement. Over the years that followed, housemates left and were replaced by friends, and friends-of-friends.
“It feels like a very family vibe,” says Pittman. “We shop together, we eat together most nights, if you are cooking you cook for everyone — that is the rule.”
Friends drop round all the time and become part of The Rising Sun family. “Our friends become friends with each other which is really nice,” says Ally Andrews, 22, a design student.
Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, of course. They do argue — like a family — philosophically about music and also about more practical matters like whose turn it is to take the bins out.
At the end of last year this idyll was shattered when their letting agent broke the bad news that their contract would be extended for only seven months.
Their landlord had decided the time was right to sell the building — prices in the SE15 postcode have almost doubled since 2015, according to Rightmove data.
“We thought about whether there was any way we could buy it ourselves, but none of us were in a position to do that independently,” says Bowley, the only original Rising Sun resident still in situ. “So we had to start looking outside the box.”
A friend suggested setting up a housing co-operative to buy the pub. Its residents could then use their not inconsiderable joint spending power — nine people currently live at The Rising Sun, spending average of £650pcm per room in rent — to repay the mortgage.
How the friends are starting a co-op in Peckham
Housing co-operatives are not a new idea — the first opened in Rochdale in the 1860s — but as renting gets more expensive, and buyers get onto the property ladder later in life, it is gaining traction as a way for generation rent to take control of their own destinies.
There are now almost 700 housing co-operatives in the UK, the majority in London.
“The more we looked into it, the more it seemed quite do-able,” says Bowley. He joined forces with Chloe Curry, 29, a performer and communications manager who lives around the corner, and their research led them to two support groups.
Community Led Housing London (communityledhousing.london) and Catalyst Collective (catalystcollective.org) have lent their considerable expertise in setting up a co-operative to The Rising Sun and Bowley and Curry slowly convinced the rest of the house that the collective route was viable.
So far their efforts have had some impressive results. They have a mortgage offer for 80 per cent of the cost of the pub, which went onto the market at the start of the year with an asking price of £1.2 million (they were able to negotiate a discount).
They have also negotiated a £150,000 loan from Cooperative and Community Finance, which specialises in lending to cooperative groups (coopfinance.coop).
As well as buying the pub they will need to pay stamp duty and legal fees. The building, which hasn’t had much spent on its maintenance, also needs work: fire safety improvements and upgrading its energy efficiency are top of the list.
This means that they faced a black hole of about £200,000 which they have spent most of this year trying to fill by making and selling mix tapes, staging gigs and offering loan stocks to investors willing to put some cash into the project, which will be repaid with interest (for more information visit risingsun.space).
By the end of July, they had managed to raise about £70,000, but their landlord has only given them until the end of August to find another £130,000 or the pub will go back on the market.
What will happen to the Rising Sun in future?
If Bowley, Pittman, Andrews and the rest of the residents meet this deadline then their plan goes far beyond being able to stay on at The Rising Sun themselves. Their housing cooperative will be run by the house’s residents and although they will deal with day-to-day running as they see fit, they will be prohibited, by law, from ever selling it.
The idea is that The Rising Sun will continue to provide a home to young creatives at the start of their careers long after Bowley and friends have moved on. “That is one of the things which makes me the most excited,” says Pittman.
“I love London because of the creativity and diversity, but it is literally being squeezed out. Everyone will leave if there is nowhere they can afford to live.”It will be these future generations who will really benefit from the project.
At first, the flatmates will need to continue paying rents at about the same level their landlord has been charging to pay off the mortgage and loans. But, as their debts are paid down, that will get lower and lower. “There are examples of co-operatives around here which are priced as low as £200 per month,” says Bowley.
“We are creating a legacy for people who need somewhere cheap to live and a community to collaborate with.”