Blog article

Co-operatives: The power of place and people

Ambition Lawrence Weston

I was delighted to join over 100 people at The Power of Place event on 25 April in Sheffield supported jointly by Local TrustLankelly ChasePower to ChangeLocality and Collaborate. The conference brought together a range of participants – from community activists to central government, from academics to the sports and physical activity sector – and demonstrated the far reaching recognition of a need to work across traditional silos, and of the value that stepping outside your organisational comfort zone can add.

The structure of the day involved small discussion groups which led to open, rich and varied  conversations around the potential benefits of place-based working, how they could equally be felt by all; the resources needed and the particular tools to make it happen. I reflected on the value of people (as well as place) – that power and control are in the hands of local communities demonstrating huge amount of skills, energy, drive and enthusiasm. I was also interested to hear from representatives from local authorities who are adapting their roles given their limited financial resources.

As a national umbrella organisation representing thousands of co-operatives across UK it’s a conversation Co-operatives UK is proud to be part of. Because co-ops are owned by their 17.5 million members they distribute assets and wealth more fairly, keeping jobs and money local. We believe that communities are best placed to know their own local challenges and the assets they have amongst them and community enterprise is at the heart of helping local communities to take control of their local solutions.

Reimagine work and wealth creation

Given the invigorating and fascinating discussions I was able to reflect on these and what they meant for our own work. We will be holding our annual Congress in June in Wakefield with the theme of Reimagine the economy. I am privileged to be involved in a number of national support programmes and this is an opportunity to celebrate their successes and how they have helped hundreds of  local communities and community enterprise across the UK.

Recently we celebrated one year of The Hive, our business support programme for co-ops and community owned enterprise, by releasing an inspirational short film 'Reimagine work'. The film features Leeds Bread Co-op, a successful worker-owned start-up that has benefited from expert advice through The Hive at a crucial movement in their development. The film was made by Blake House Filmmakers Co-operative. In three minutes it captures how co-ops combine solidarity with pragmatism and enterprise and it shows the huge potential for practical, local business support tailored to co-ops to make a real difference in people's lives.

Creating a strong local economy

As well as reimagining work, our government funded programme, Community Economic Development, has enabled 70 communities to create real economic change in the areas they live, work or run a business, particularly in areas of high deprivation.

The Community Economic Development (CED) programme is designed to support communities who want to deliver real economic change in their area. The process is led by people living, working and running businesses in that area. A strong local economy supports positive social, environmental and economic outcomes, referred to as a ‘triple bottom line’ against which we’d want to make sure our local economic system is delivering.

In addition to the 70 groups supported to take a lead in shaping their economies for the benefit of their community, the second year of the programme has enabled us to work with 10 communities who participated in the first programme to ensure that their plans become a reality. Groups received a package of grants and support to help them produce dynamic and deliverable local economic plans.

Ambition Lawrence Weston is a resident-led project based in Bristol working closely with statutory partners on developing community energy, community employment and regeneration groups. Ambition Lawrence Weston participated in the first year of the CED programme and their CED plan identified the need to address issues of lack of affordable housing for local residents. They are now being supported to establish an Ethical Letting & Maintenance agency and, in the longer-term, community-led housing. And they are not alone in finding answers at grassroots level. From tackling an epidemic of closed shops and social issues in Blackpool to responding to the proliferation of low-skilled jobs in Dorset, communities across England are rising to the challenge.

Building stronger, more vibrant and independent communities

Earlier this year we had the wonderful news that George and Dragon Pub in Hudswell, was voted Pub of the Year by Camra. This was a public house rescued by the public. When the pub was closing, local people came together to buy and run it co-operatively. The confidence they gained acted as a flywheel for community development and new services for the village. The George and Dragon was one of the early and pioneering societies in our Community Shares programme, now operating in partnership with LocalityPower to ChangeDTA ScotlandWales Cooperative CentrePlunkett Foundation and others – raising member capital to get things going.

Since 2009, over 400 communities across the country have used community shares to save local shops and pubs, finance renewable energy schemes, transform community facilities, support local food growing, fund new football clubs, restore heritage buildings and much more. Over £150 million has been raised with the help of over 150,000 people (investor members).

Hastings Pier has been a massive success story for all concerned and inspirational for many future community projects. Poor maintenance forced the closure of the pier some ten years ago and a major fire in October 2010 nearly destroyed the entire structure. Following a £14.2m refurbishment and over two years work, Hastings Pier re-opened to the public in Spring 2016. The pier is expected to attract over 300,000 additional visitors a year to the town as well as become a popular venue for locals. Already it has hosted a wide range of events, including the cinema nights under the stars and live music and entertainment.

Much of the funding for the renovation of the pier came from a substantial Heritage Lottery Fund grant whilst a Community Share issue in the pier’s operating company raised over £600,000 from some 3,000 investors, many of whom are local to Hastings.

More recently Leeds Community Homes raised £360,000 through a community share offer, which will allow them to create their first 16 permanently-affordable homes in Leeds towards their ambition of 1,000 community owned homes. They are also one of 15 community enterprises supported through the Community Shares Booster programme, funded by Power to Change, to develop their community share offers and provide match-funding.


There’s plenty of people out there with the skills and enthusiasm to make a difference in their local communities. It’s great that as a network organisation we are able to work with our partners and funding bodies to provide guidance and support.

Written by Petra Morris
Updated: 08/05/2017