When a group came together to form a community‑owned grocers selling local produce, it proved more popular than they could have imagined…
Like many places in the UK, Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland has seen its town centre decline. And like many places, local people are taking action to reverse this. Lee Robb is one of those people.
She runs Positive Carrickfergus, an organisation working to make the town a great place to live. Through her work engaging with local people, it became clear there was an interest in setting up a community‑owned greengrocers.
“When we asked people about this, I expected them to say ‘wind your neck in’ but everyone we spoke to said yes,” she said.
So a working group of nine locals came together to form Carrick Greengrocers – and sought help from the Business Support for Co‑ops programme delivered by Co‑operatives UK in partnership with The Co‑operative Bank.
They were awarded support from co‑operative advisor Tiziana O’Hara. “With Tiziana’s help, we met every three weeks and got to know each other – as we’d come together through different networks,” said Lee.
“We were exploring our ‘why’ and what we cared about. I was there because I was concerned about climate change and biodiversity. Others were concerned about the high street and the fact the community needs to take a lead on regenerating it.”
With Tiziana’s assistance, the group registered as a community benefit society in July 2022 – then started working on a business plan and a community share offer.
“We decided we would do a community share offer to raise start-up finance, as well as having the added benefit of bringing people in. When people invest in community shares, you’ve got customers before you’ve even opened your doors,” said Lee.
With a target of £25,000, the share offer closed in June 2023 having raised more than £34,000 from 434 investor members.
“We found premises and turned it around in a matter of weeks,” said Lee. “We opened the shop on 19 July – and had an absolutely fantastic reception.
“In our business plan, we’d estimated to take £625 in the first week. We took £10,000. People were coming in the shop saying it was great to able buy locally grown produce.
“It’s been wonderful meeting so many local producers we didn’t know before. We sell far more local produce than we’d anticipated. And we’ve more local suppliers coming on board, including farms that will start growing specifically for us.”
Lee and her colleagues are grateful for the support they received to get the shop off to such a successful start.
“Everyone loves Tiziana and we appreciate the work she’s done. She gave the whole group confidence and that was important to keep us moving. It was important for people who’d never done this before to know she had faith in us.
“We’re the first community owned greengrocer in Northern Ireland and we want to inspire people in other places to see this as a viable option for community wealth building.
“It’s about us being the people we’ve been waiting for. We need to stop waiting around for the council or tourists from outside to ‘save’ us. We can do it ourselves.”