Blog article

#CoopFortnight - A co-op with people power that keeps a proud heritage alive

Norwich Mustard co-op is proof that when an industry that’s been synonymous with a city for centuries is suddenly shut down by a large multinational – there’s a way for individuals to take control and keep that tradition alive.

That’s what happened when Unilever, the owner of Colman’s mustard, ceased its production in Norwich.

“People felt indignant and powerless but we can give them their sense of pride back,” says social entrepreneur Robert Ashton. He’s one of a group of locals who decided to form a co-operative to produce their own mustard – to preserve the city’s heritage and create opportunities for local people.

Robert recalls how it all started: “I recorded a video, talking about starting a community owned mustard production company. It had 5,000 views over one weekend. So we crowd funded a small amount to get started, which was matched by a grant from the Community Shares Booster Scheme, funded by Power to Change, and it all went from there.”

Still in its infancy, Norwich Mustard has several founder members and a recipe created by a retired Colman’s employee. The first batches have been created with mustard from nearby farms and the next phase is to raise capital to increase production by inviting members of the local community to invest in the venture.

Norwich Mustard will be celebrate Co-op Fortnight (24 June to 7 July 2019) to help shine a spotlight on what can be achieved when people co-operate.

The co-op is aiming to start growing its own mustard next year. “We’re keen that it’s a wholegrain, flavoured mustard. And we’d like to produce mustard beer,” says Robert.

“People value that connection between mustard and the city. We’re locally rooted, locally accountable and have a social impact as well. We’re planning to deliver educational work, teaching young people about mustard, its role in the city, how you use it, how you grow it – and about co-operation, co-operative businesses and co-op values.

“Part of the goal is to work with Norwich Prison to provide opportunity and experience for people as they come towards release. We also plan to open a mustard heritage centre – as a local focal point because local people really value that connection between mustard and the city.”

Robert is looking forward to the upcoming community share issue increasing Norwich Mustard’s membership and involving local people much more in the business. “Being a co-op is all about equality of opportunity, inclusion and democracy,” he says. “And that’s why we’re celebrating Co-operative Fortnight – because we’re proof that when people come together, they can achieve great things.”

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Written by Jennifer Banks
Updated: 01/07/2019