A 'Square Mile of Opportunity' through community organising

“RunFit Hartlepool has created a community of people who are really supportive of each other and the wider town. They do litter picks where they go running – it’s an example of how a community business can have an impact on more than just health and well-being.”

RunFit started off when a group of local residents recognised that many people in the area are overweight. They saw that people are not active and the public health messages are not sticking,” Sacha Bedding recounts

Sacha is the Manager of The Annexe, a community and resource centre in Dyke House run by the Wharton Trust, based in the top 2% most deprived wards in the UK. The team here took a decision to change their approach and embedded community organizing into every aspect of their work.

He explains what that means: “People haven’t got a lot of money. They don’t have much to do – and people are unwell as a result of that. It’s the cumulative impact of everything else that’s not quite right about a place. In our square mile, in spite of those circumstances, people try to help each other out, but their lives are hard,” says Sacha. “So we go out, knock on doors and build relationships.

“When people tell us what they don’t like about the area, it’s indicative of where the market has failed. So is there a community business solution? And if so, are those people who’ve identified the need willing to take it on as a business?”

Take RunFit Hartlepool as an example, and the answer to those questions is a resounding ‘Yes’. “

With support from Sacha’s team, RunFit was created as a community business to get local people out running. It now has 120 members. And the Dyke House resident who set it up has gone from doing one evening run per week to working on the business full time.

With the support of the Wharton Trust, its Community Organisers and Community Business Worker, local people are becoming involved in a range of community business activity, including a care service, a community shop and Bloom In Arts, which offers creative workshops.

Building on this, Sacha has big ambitions for the one square mile as part of ‘Our Square Mile of Opportunity’. “We want to buy a home on every street, and in every one of those homes have a Community Organiser who works with neighbours to commit to social action that makes their street the best it can be. 

“We also want a community business GP surgery. Our aspiration is that the surgery’s social prescribing refers people to local community businesses. For example, if you’re overweight, you can join RunFit, or engage with Bloom In Arts to help with mental health and tackle social isolation. This will enable money to stay within our local economy create the conditions to give people a better quality of life.”


The Wharton Trust is one of the catalyst organisations for the Empowering Places programme, that aims to demonstrate the role that concentrated clusters of community businesses can play in creating better places and reducing inequality in local areas. Funded by Power to Change, the programme is delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with CLES and NEF.

The Empowering Places programme is part of our Community Economic Development (CED) work, which supports organisations and networks in local wealth building, co-op development and engaging communities in economic development.