Co-operating Oxford ends but new co-ops live on!
This week is the start of Co-op Fortnight (Monday 19th June) an annual celebration of co-operatives in the UK. It also marks the final few weeks of the Co-operating Oxford project. Here, Co-op Futures’ Alice Hemming, explains some of the background and outcomes of a project she’s worked on since July 2022.
I’ve had the pleasure and good luck to have been working on this project as the Co-operative Development Worker at Co-operative Futures. Through funding from Oxford City Council, I’ve been able to provide free start-up support, training and events to groups who wished to set up community or worker owned businesses.
Over the last year I’ve got to work with some passionate groups of people who’ve come together to serve their local area or address a need through creating a purposeful business. From creating financial projections to advising how to take on a lease for a community building, I’ve been able to provide mentoring and in-depth support for around 12 groups along their business development journeys. I’ve also met with another 20 groups to advise about co-operative options for their businesses.
Community Businesses & Co-ops: Panel Conversation & Social Meet Up, October 2022
The project has also fostered connections between existing and new co-operative businesses across the county by holding 2 networking events. We’ve also been part of facilitating events and conversations about using co-operative models for providing social care services. As well as working with the Owned By Oxford partnership and grassroots community organisations to discuss community-ownership and management of community space in Blackbird Leys.
By the end of the project, I’m excited to announce that 4 new co-operatives have been set-up in Oxford with another 3 groups converting to become co-operatives.
We can share some of their stories here:
Cutteslowe Greenhouse Project
When the garden centre in Cutteslowe park closed, the local community came together to try to rescue it. They are setting up a community benefit society and hope to take on the greenhouses to provide a community hub that connects people with the natural world and each other through nature and food based activities.
“The Cutteslowe Greenhouse is all about enabling and creating community that is easy to access and identify with. Becoming a Community Benefit Society is therefore exactly the right structure as it will reflect how we want our group to be owned and governed. Exploring how to govern our group-to-be and to create community in the process has been an amazing journey over the last 9 months. The support and guidance from Co-operative Futures has been invaluable, and in itself an inspiration to make every part of our group an expression of togetherness.” Michael Huth, founder
“We are at the stage where we have a founding team and board members, ready to take the plunge. This summer will see a number of engagement events in Cutteslowe Park to raise our profile and tell our story. A paid engagement coordinator is taking on the organisation and promotion of these events, while our steering group continues to work on our business plan and proposal.”
Flame Lily Co-operative
“We have a desire to grow the entrepreneurial spirit and capability in the society we serve.” Millie Khisa, member
Flame Lily is group of colleagues and friends, setting up to provide much needed administrative and training services in the health & social care sector. They were passionate about setting up a workers co-operative to work together and use their skills to give back to the community.
Wolvercote Community Space
Having been gifted a community space at the new Wolvercote Paper Mill housing site, this group has been consulting with the local residents and are in the process of setting up a community hub offering cafe, work and events space.
“Our vision was to create an inclusive, intergenerational space run by the community for the community. The practical support offered by Co-operative Futures has been invaluable in helping us to create an organisational structure which reflects this vision. More than that, it has given us the confidence to know that we are not alone, but form part of a dynamic network of like-minded groups working to empower and support our local communities.”
Community-owned Music Venue
Driven by the shortage of purpose-made and accessible music venues in the city, after several public meetings drawing support from over 100 people, a group is forming as a community benefit society in order to develop support and find a space for a community-owned music space.
“Oxford has an incredibly rich pedigree of producing world famous popular music artists, but many of the grass roots venues which nurtured them have been forced to close due to unsustainable rents or poorly thought through redevelopments. That means just a handful of venues remain where a diverse range of artists can cut their teeth, enriching cultural life and social cohesion in the city, regardless of whether they go on to become superstars. We aim to address that situation through concerted community action and invite the major landowners and public bodies to work with us to make the dream a reality.” Paul Wightman, community music venue activist
South Oxford Farmers & Community Market
The market has been going for many years and is much used and loved by the local community. They have decided to convert into a co-op. “South Oxford Farmers Market is a thriving community asset and we want to reflect this by becoming a community benefit society. This will enable it to be owned and run by the people who benefit from it and ensure its ongoing success.” Deborah Glass-Woodin, Director
#CoopFortnight this year celebrates how co-operatives offer an altogether different way to do business, to support communities, and to support people.