I have now done my first 3 interviews (all via Zoom) for this research project! The first was with a friend who lives in a fairly large (around 100 members) housing co-op, which has houses and flats scattered around an inner-city neighbourhood in a city in the North of England. The other two were with two people who responded to my call for participants, who both live in a similarly sized – but very differently structured – student housing co-op in Scotland.
Starting to do my interviews was delayed quite a bit from when I had originally hoped to, first because of the length of time that it took for me to get approval to do my research from the University ethics committee, and then because of some personal stuff that came up unexpectedly just as I was starting to actually contact co-ops and try to recruit participants, so it was exciting to get to start doing some, but also slightly scary. While I have done similar semi-structured research interviews before (both for my Masters dissertation in 2013, and for my PhD in 2015-16), I felt distinctly ‘rusty’ and a bit anxious and lacking in confidence about getting back into doing them!
I was quite grateful to have a friend rather than a stranger as my first interviewee, because that made it feel a lot more comfortable and “natural”, and meant that I could go into my interviews with strangers feeling more practiced. While interviewing friends has its potential pitfalls, and would perhaps be frowned upon in some more traditional takes on qualitative research (in which concepts like ‘objectivity’ and avoidance of bias are highly valued), I believe that pre-existing connection and shared knowledge and experiences between interviewer and interviewee can enhance research by giving access to dimensions of data that interviews with strangers might not be able to. (I write about this in more detail in the methodology chapter of my PhD thesis.) Conversely, however, some things may be easier to ask, or to tell, a stranger than a friend about – and of course this is likely to vary immensely from person to person. Therefore, especially given that a lot of my life and my friendships are in the intersection between disability and co-ops, my aim is to have a balance, as I did in my PhD, between interviewees who I do and don’t know already.
I can already see some themes emerging from these first few interviews, including:
– Co-ops are good for disabled people! Participants so far all said that they found fewer disabling barriers in their housing co-ops than in the other types of housing they had lived in (mainstream social housing, student halls and privately rented housing).
– Co-ops don’t necessarily know much about disability, and disabled people don’t necessarily know much about co-ops before they join them – everyone who I have interviewed so far found out about the co-ops they now live in through friends or co-workers who already lived in or had connections to the co-ops, and their motivations to join were mostly pragmatic (e.g. cheap rent, more housing security and greater willingness to meet access needs than privately rented housing) rather than idealistic (because they specifically wanted to live in a co-op or cared about co-operative values – though all did come to care about those values).
– Co-op governance processes can be frustrating and there can be barriers for disabled people to participating in them, but also disabled people can get to influence co-ops to be better at dealing with disabling barriers through being involved in co-op governance.
I have 3 more interviews scheduled for next week, and potentially a few more in later March or April. However, I am still very much looking for more interviewees! I would ideally like to get at least 20 overall – so if you are a disabled person who is or has been a member of a co-op, and you’d like to take part in this research, please do get in touch. In particular, most of the people who have responded to my call for participants so far are members of housing co-ops, so (while I am definitely up for interviewing more housing co-op members!) I would particularly like to make sure that I get some disabled people who are or were members of workers’ co-ops, or of other types of co-ops such as consumer or multi-stakeholder co-ops.
Everyone who I interview will get a £15 shopping voucher. I haven’t yet sorted out exactly which shops it will be possible to have vouchers for, but I am hoping wherever possible to get vouchers for shops which are co-ops – whether that’s “The Co-op” supermarket chain, or shops local to participants which are workers’ co-ops, such as Unicorn in Manchester.
My timeline for doing interviews is somewhat flexible, but ideally I’d like to do all or at least most of them by the end of May, which is also when I have set my survey to close – after that, I will be analysing the data and turning it into writing!
If you want to know more about who I want to interview and what I am asking people about, see my call for participants.