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Funded by Power to Change and Access – the Foundation for Social Investment. In partnership with Locality

Scottish Co‑operative Discovery Centre: A community powered attraction that celebrates local and national co-op history

Case study

30th April 2024
Co-op development
People stand with a model of the soon to be redeveloped Scottish Co-operative Discovery Centre

To highlight the power of co‑operation, community business and community share offers, we’re sharing the story of an exciting new co‑operative heritage centre that’s taking shape in a Scottish village – conceived, created and run by the local community. 

With a population of around 4,000 people, the village of West Calder between Edinburgh and Glasgow is steeped in co‑operative history. 

It was the birthplace of West Calder Co‑operative Society, one of Scotland’s most successful early co‑operatives. Formed in 1875, it flourished throughout the region before merging with another co‑op that eventually became part of Scotmid Co‑operative. 

“Our village is full of buildings that were built by the co‑op,” said local resident Matt Pearce. “One of these is a huge regional bakery that, due to its success, West Calder Co‑op opened here in 1909.” 

The former bakery had since become derelict, but thanks to local charity, the West Calder and Harburn Community Development Trust, the building is being redeveloped as a co‑operative heritage attraction and museum.

The trust works to develop the local community in consultation with the community. Together they’ve created an action plan for the village. 

“People wanted to save the bakery and turning it into the Scottish Co‑operative Discovery Centre combines a number of our priorities for West Calder,” said Matt. “It will be a hands‑on, play‑based heritage attraction – where people can learn, play, touch and feel.”

The exterior of the former bakery that will be redeveloped into the Scottish Co-operative Discovery Centre
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The centre will tell the story of co‑operatives, which local people agreed should be celebrated because it’s important in our village as well as in others across the country.
– Matt Pearce, Secretary, Scottish Co-operative Discovery Centre

“There’ll be lots of collaborative games to learn about co‑operation, as well as activities that reflect our local co‑operative history. For example, the West Calder Co‑op had its own power station, which, at the time, was a marvel of modern electrical engineering. This allowed it to become the first village in Scotland to have electric street lighting. 

“So there will be electric generation games and activities – lots of fun things kids can get involved in, which will also take us full circle to today’s renewable energy which helps fund the Trust in this project.” 

The charity has successfully raised nearly all its £6 million budget for developing the Scottish Co‑operative Discovery Centre – and they have set up a community benefit society (CBS) to be the organisation that runs and manages the attraction. 

“We settled upon a structure that includes a CBS set up using the Development Trust Association Scotland’s hybrid rules," Matt explained. “This means the West Calder and Harburn Community Development Trust can have an anchor share while also having local community oversight through our community member‑shareholders.”

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A CBS allows us to raise critical funding while operating a co‑operative model. We wanted to ensure that co‑operation was really baked into the heart of it, if you’ll excuse the pun!
– Matt Pearce, Secretary, Scottish Co-operative Discovery Centre

The Scottish Co‑operative Discovery Centre held a small local community share offer in late 2023 and attracted some 130 investors from the area. At the time of writing, it is holding a second share offer launched to seek investment more widely across, Scotland, the UK and beyond. 

“We are looking to raise £150,000,” said Matt. “It will enable the CBS to start trading in a strong, viable position. 

“The centre will open in early 2026. It’s important to have the community involved and we wanted to get the CBS up and running so we can develop it in parallel with the project. 

“Major works will commence on site in November 2024. This will be the point when the board of the new CBS can really get involved. We have a founding board of six members who are all trustees of the community development trust. 

“We’ll have our first proper AGM at the end of this year and that’s when the new shareholders will be given the opportunity to stand on the board. There’s already plenty of interest amongst the 130 locals who invested in the first share offer.

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There’s a good feeling and buzz about the project in the village – because this really has been created and developed by the local community. It will make a huge difference to the village.
– Matt Pearce, Scottish Co‑operative Discovery Centre

“Like many small places in the UK, West Calder is in danger of becoming subsumed by the towns around it. It’s also suffered due to ‘dying high street syndrome’, austerity and local council cuts. 

“The fact that, as a community, we’ve raised the funds to invest in the community, it’s not taking anything away from other services. When local people understand that they are like, ‘Wow, great, let’s get behind this.’”

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