‘Rather than complaining, we are getting on and doing things’ – stories of local economic renewal

One of the great contributions of community and worker co-operatives that I visit is often in acting as a flywheel for wider renewal of the local neighbourhood. As such, co-operatives can often be understood as part of a deeper process of empowerment or community development.

 

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I have pulled together and published a series of slides today on the role of co-operatives in community economic development – with input from and acknowledgement of many partners and allies around this work (thank you), including the Co-operative Bank, Locality, New Economics Foundation, Centre for Local Economic Strategies, Responsible Finance, Power to Change, Reconomy & Transition Towns Network, New Weather Institute, Co-operative Councils Innovation Network, Co-operative Development Scotland, Development Trusts Association Scotland, Co-operative Alternatives (Northern Ireland) and the Wales Co-operative Centre.

There are a number of genuine success stories across the UK of local economic renewal:

  1. In West Dorset, rural communities have created local food links and new food enterprises.
  2. In the Hebrides, three quarters of land is community owned, with more renewable energy generated in South Uist now in Summer months than the national grid can handle
  3. In Preston, the local authority, police and health services are seeing where they can place contracts with locally owned businesses – a ‘community wealth building’ approach
  4. In Bristol, growing numbers of people have joined the local credit union, for local savings and a currency that can be cashed with local enterprise.
  5. In the Black Country, a loan fund supports local businesses turned down by high street banks to survive and thrive.
  6. Children in the seaside town of Rhyl get to play music after teachers laid off by the county council formed their own co-operative to keep music education alive.

Researchers, by the way, call co-op effects like this ‘collective self-efficacy’ – in essence, the belief and ability of people to come together to make a difference. It reminds me of a report I read recently from the Democracy Collaborative on community development initiatives in the United States, which found that: “virtually all of the cases profiled in this report stressed the value of embarking on an achievable task that builds capacity and buy-in within the community”.

Self-help has a proud history and if you look around, it is a story that is just as compelling today.

As Carolyn Loftus, member of the Esk Energy Society in Yorkshire puts it…“rather than complaining about things, we’re getting on and doing something.”

 

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