Gólya is a self-organised community space in Budapest’s 8th district. Gólya has relocated to its current location due to intense property development and increasing real estate pressure around its previous venue. In order to counter gentrification and gain independence from the changes of the rental market, the community running Gólya decided to buy a building and own it as a cooperative. The new venue is in an office building formerly administering a large factory, now located in the vicinity of a supermarket, a gas station and a number of small shops inhabiting the remaining structures of the industrial site. In a series of interviews, conducted in November 2018 and October 2020, founders Marci Bíró and András Szépe explained the goals of the organisation, its financial arrangements, the challenge of renovating a run-down former factory building and the challenges and opportunities brought to the cooperative by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Could you introduce Gólya?
Gólya is a community house where we are trying to mobilise as many functions as possible: we work as a concert and events venue, a bar, a cafeteria, children day-care, communal repair shop, but also as a platform where to organise workshops and meetings for the organisation we cooperate with. We give office space to Helyzet Műhely, a social theory working group that meets here. In the new venue, we also host Mérce, an independent left-wing news website, the Lahmacun radio station, a 60m2 gym, a ceramics workshop, our offices and also a crèche open for children in our broader community. Gólya originally started as a small pub in the 9th district of Budapest, named Frisco, and ran cooperatively from the beginning. In 2012, it moved to the 8th district, on Bókay János utca, where we rented a historical pub that we renovated and re-opened under the name Gólya. Our main goal is to spread the idea of cooperative economy because we consider it the most beneficial working system for everybody as it does not take advantages of the workers. This logic also makes work more pleasurable: in a cooperative everybody is an owner of the company and works both for themselves and the other group members.
Who comes to Gólya?
It is hard to define our guests, many people from the neighbourhood come here since they consider us the district pub, but we also receive people who search for cheap prices or come from the outskirts of the city to hang out here. A lot of foreigners also like Gólya’s vibe because we resemble a squat-like-establishment and we also have occasional visitors who are curious about our economic or organisational model. The new venue is much larger than the previous one, allowing us to implement more wide-ranging facilities and programmes so it might attract a broader variety of people. We try to build a network with other cooperatives in Budapest and outside Hungary so that we can learn from each other about the challenges of a cooperative.
How does the cooperative work?
As members of cooperatives, we work for 40 hours a week, of which at least 18 hours must be physical labour and the rest is organising work in specialised smaller groups responsible for different areas of activity: programming, marketing, logistics, finance, bureaucracy and all the things that we need in order to keep the cooperative running. We all attend weekly assemblies and monthly meetings dedicated to strategic planning and team-building. We have now 15 members with four persons in the process of becoming members. The fluctuation is not that big, usually if somebody leaves there is always somebody about to become a member.
You can become a cooperative member after a year of work in Gólya. You start as a regular worker doing physical tasks, either at the bar, in the kitchen, at the shows, in renovations, as a courier, or at the day-care. After about half year you can apply to become a member and usually you start to engage in the more organisational work, such as coordinating tasks, back office, learning how to run the place itself. By the time you become a member you should have learnt how Gólya functions and how to organise your own tasks.
Apart from the time spent working at Gólya, to become a member it is necessary to invest in some shares, with an investment equal for all members and which cannot be sold, but which will return to the person in case they leave the cooperative. Membership also comes with social benefits, such as food and drink provision, vacation, housing allowance, maternity and paternity leave, sick leave, and special considerations for studies or other personal needs. We try to keep the number of employees low because we prefer to teach people the methods we use so they can join the cooperative. Working with us is not like working in a bakery or in a regular bar because we aim to function in a structure in which each of us becomes a piece of a puzzle and works in connection with the others, knowing that each moment of inattention will put more work on the shoulders of the co-workers.
Why did you have to move?
We needed to move because the owner sold our rented venue, making a big profit. Our building was 150 years old, but all around us were newly built offices and luxury apartments. It always surprised our visitors to see the fancy, new tall glass corporate buildings that surrounded our tiny-one-floor-house. This area is undergoing huge changes: in the ‘80 and ‘90s, District 8 has been known as sketchy neighbourhood, but it has always had a good transport system, good infrastructure and it is close to the city centre. Since the 2000s, the incoming foreigner investments has modernised this area, starting from the centre outwards, eventually reaching us.
Tell us about the new venue!
This used to be an office building of Ganz Works, a transportation manufacturer, and it had been abandoned for years. We found this venue over two year ago; we negotiated with the owner and bought it. The old Gólya was 350 square meters and this is 1200 square meters, plus a rooftop. On the ground floor we have a concert hall and a bar, on the first floor we will have our offices and other spaces that organisations rent from us. As we won’t have a garden anymore, as it used to be in the old Gólya, we use the rooftop as a terrace. We had no support from any local institution, but we still try to keep a good relationship with the city council. We feel that sometimes the city council or even some of our neighbours are sceptical about us, but we suppose they admire that we are still running the place, legally, and above water.
How did you end up buying the building and what is your financial model?
We wanted to feel secure about our venue so we decided on buying a building. At the same time, it was important to have a model that excludes the possibility of individual profiteering and which serves the aims of the cooperative. Buying comes with massive responsibility: our cooperative supports itself from the market economy.
To buy and renovate the venue (a part of the office building) we needed 150 million HUF (~€450,000). We were seeking for a loan, and we calculated to be able to pay it back from the rents collected, the bar’s revenues and other activities. Thought we had a clear, proven business plan, it was difficult to find banks to give us loans. Fortunately, we managed to negotiate with the previous owner to pay the buying price back in increments, with interest. Partially, we funded the relocation through a successful crowdfunding campaign; we also reached out to our community and raised funds with the help of small investors, friends who helped us, regular customers at the old Gólya and relatives who wanted to support us. These smaller loans helped us to proceed with the purchase and the renovation until we could have access to larger loans. It took us a long time and lot of effort to finally get a 30 million HUF (~€85,000) loan from Erste Bank, through an integration fund largely guaranteed by the European Central Bank.
Due to the short duration of some of our loans (1-2 years), we needed to start paying back some loans and interests already before the renovation was over. This meant that we needed to generate revenues from as early as possible. Therefore we decided to get the first-floor offices ready for our tenants before finishing the renovation of other spaces in the building. Our tenants rent the offices but they all operate in a cooperative logic and we have constant discussions on how implement a collective property.
What changes did the Covid-19 pandemic bring?
Normally we organise events, offer food and drinks to generate income. We also offer catering for private events outside our premises and are present at festivals. We host private parties for special occasions such as birthdays but we also host cultural and political debates. In the past year, however, the bar and event venue has had a limited operation due to the pandemic. We spent months with the venue closed and our revenue from the bar was greatly reduced in 2020. Therefore we needed to diversify our revenues streams. During the renovation process, we realised that we gained many construction and renovation skills. To put these new skills in the service of the cooperative, we launched a construction business and now we have some revenues from doing renovations in the neighbourhood as the cooperative. We also established a bike delivery service as many of our members had experience working as couriers.
These three services now constitute the main building blocks of our business. Because of the flexibility of our organisation and members, we were capable of moving our workers from the bar and event venue to the renovation and delivery businesses. This allowed us to retain all our employees. Everybody works according to their skills, some with building, renovating, some with couriering. Each member gets paid according to their needs. This is how we are surviving the current pandemic period.
What is your relationship with the neighbours?
We have a neighbourhood community building programme that we finance through a grant. As a first step, we are focusing on the four buildings opposite us. We are in constant contact with them with the aim to ensure that Gólya is a beneficial place for them. We’re building a neighbourhood advocacy initiative whose goal is to create a neighbourhood community that stands up for its rights. The programme is going very well and we receive positive feedbacks.
Interview with Marci Bíró (November 2018) and András Szépe (October 2020), founders of Gólya. It is an extended and updated version of our 2019 article.