Help was on hand from Co-operatives UK when a London artist decided to set up a club to help improve people’s wellbeing through creative expression.
It was while volunteering at a food bank in Islington in London in 2020 that Lydia Rose had the idea that would become Allie’s Art Club – a community benefit society (CBS) using the power of art to generate positive personal and social change.
Also being a user of the food bank while facing mental health challenges, financial insecurity and social isolation, Lydia saw the value in the arts as a way to overcome these challenges.
“I spoke with lots of people at the food bank and found many were interested in art,” she recalled. “So I decided to set up an art club and named it after my friend and next door neighbour, who I spent my childhood creating art with, but who sadly passed away from cancer when she was 17.”
The club has delivered a number of projects and events since its inception, including art fairs and markets, performing arts shows and open mic nights with music and spoken word performances.
Initially formed under the wing of the food bank, Allie’s Art Club eventually became a separate entity. And Lydia’s research into co-ops led her to the conclusion this would be the perfect type of organisation for what she wanted to achieve.
“We currently have a core membership of three and we decided to become a community benefit society [a type of co-op] because, in our experience, a lot of organisations tend to be exploitative of creative people and don’t give them their value. It limits the positive impact they can have.
“We wanted to create something for the community that also pays artists more fairly and gives them greater opportunity.”
With a community share offer planned for 2024 to extend membership and raise capital, Lydia and her colleagues have been consulting with people in Islington to find out what they want and how they’d like to engage with the club.
They were awarded 10 advice sessions with Co-operatives UK’s Co-operative Governance Support Advisor, Dane Pollard.
“He’s given us lots of advice around specific questions about structure, community shares, legality and how we raise and manage finance to fund our organisation’s goals.
“We spoke to Dane about what sort of clauses we’d need in our governing document. He explained the terminology and what it meant so we could lay the foundations that helped us create what we needed.
“The advice we’ve received from Co-operatives UK has been really useful because none of us had experience in setting up a co-op. It was a fantastic opportunity to receive tailored support to help us grow – and all the practical help with governing documents was really valuable.”
As part of the package of support, Lydia was put in touch with a community owned music venue in Lewisham, south London.
“We spoke to Lennie Watson from Sister Midnight, which was a really useful conversation,” she said. “It was good to hear about how she had leased a property then launched a community share offer so they could buy it.
“We’ve been running events out of different venues. Our goal now is to acquire a property so we can open a community-owned arts centre that brings people together and supports wellbeing – where we’ll hold all of our events and workshops.
“We’re focusing on research and development at the moment and have an online survey people can fill in. We’re also thinking of creating a digital platform for people so they can vote on things and communicate with each other for upcoming events.
“We want to make sure we’re doing projects that people want to do. It’s our aim to increase wellbeing and a sense of inclusion by supporting local artists from a range of backgrounds, communities and incomes.”