A large part of my work over the last two years was centered on designing a concept for
regenerative, self-organised student housing on the Luhrmannhof (The Hof) in Osnabrück.
The Hof is an old farm with heritage classified buildings on one beautifully green hectare of land on the outskirts of the city. Surrounded by woodland, a stream, small lake, many cycle ways and walking tracks it had been an idyllic dream for the generations of students who had lived there since it was opened for student housing by Studentenwerk in the late 1980s.
In October 2021, this dream almost came crashing to a halt as the students were informed that the Hof was to be sold and that everyone would be moved into new accommodation within 6 months. Quickly jumping into action to save the home of 47 students, 3 cats, and 11 chickens, a co-operative was formed and a small scale crowdfunding campaign began to fund the first stages of consultation and project management with Robert from Scorb.
In the face of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss it is vital to protect green spaces such as the Luhrmannhof from development. Not to mention preserving the student culture that had developed over the last 30 years on the Hof, supporting much of the activism, art and music scene in the city. We saw an incredible opportunity to reimagine life on the Hof as a proper self-organised community who could then choose how to best serve the wider neighbourhood.
The Hof serves as a multi-disciplinary melting pot of people studying and learning in diverse academic fields. The world needs places where different points of the system come together to collaborate, share ideas, create and learn from each other. This is a place where questions such as ¨How do we transform our relationship to nature and each other to create an equitable future for all?¨ are a core focus, and each person is contributing what they can to living the answers. The friendships and relationships formed in places like the Hof can bring about huge positive changes in the world.
Self-organising meant each student living on the Hof would have to undertake some level of responsibility for the administrative and financial tasks, building maintenance, and project management of the necessary renovations and restorations which are being carried out in the coming years. It also meant greater freedom to decide things like how to organise rent, which has now been shifted to a solidarity based system; or food, which is now largely supplied by local organic farmers and bulk food orders for cereals, nuts, spices etc., thus decreasing reliance on single-use plastics. We would have the choice to improve inclusivity by opening affordable living spaces to people doing apprenticeships and those engaged in other forms of long-term education / training.
We were given one and a half years to create a concept which would win over students, investors, partners, and the seller Studentenwerk. This project was an incredible journey, not only in becoming fluent in German, but also pushing the boundaries of what people think is achievable or possible within such a timeframe.
We had no capital, but what we did have was commitment and faith. We believed in our vision and the necessity of projects like this for the collective. And we knew that we would give it everything and see it through.
Financially we required €400,000 to secure the loans that were needed to renovate and restore the buildings, plus transition to renewable energies and a new heating system to stop reliance on gas. We were lucky enough to find cooperative partners in finance (Stiftung Trias), architecture (Planungsbüro Graw) and law (Funk Tenfelde) who reflected our ecological and social values.
Following a number of community visioning workshops in Autumn 2022 and with the help of master students in landscape architechture at the Hochschule in Osnabrück, people started to feel the change was becoming real. We decided on working groups and roles, thinking of the Hof as a dynamic being which goes through phases, moods and seasons, and trying to image how the community could best navigate these changes. We hosted summer events for the public with music, art, workshops, food and drinks, as well as a Christmas market complete with crepes, a choir and Glühwein (mulled wine). While these events were amazing displays of Hof culture and character, and they connected us with the wider community, they would not raise anywhere close to the sum of money we needed.
A major concern for many during this project was how we would manage the constant fluctuation of people in the community. The average stay on the Hof by a student was about 3 years, in comparison to other community housing projects this is a very short time and some would say that this does not allow for the continuity, dependability or security needed for such a project to sustain itself. But we saw this fluctuation as potential for new impulses and friction, bringing constant renewal, revitalisation and regeneration of the system. We co-creatively designed flexible and flat internal organisational structures, where roles and tasks are adaptable and clearly defined. There was also a cloud server developed, which meant managing internal projects, communication and finances would be as simple as possible.
We began approaching potential investors in December of 2022, hosting information evenings on the Hof, handing out flyers and speaking to people on the street, and promoting our cause in local newspapers and on radio. The private loans and larger donations began flowing in! Thanks to one generous investment in February 2023 that made up our shortfall of €140,000, we knew we had made it!
This is only the beginning of a new era of self-organisation and regeneration on the Luhrmannhof.