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.
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:
- In West Dorset, rural communities have created local food links and new food enterprises.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- In the Black Country, a loan fund supports local businesses turned down by high street banks to survive and thrive.
- 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.”