Co-operative Futures was a key delivery partner in the USE-IT! project, a 3-year EU funded programme in West Birmingham and Smethwick, running from January 2017 to December 2019. It was an example of a place-based programme that harnesses social business to support a wider infrastructure, investment, social and economic transformation.
USE-IT! brought together organisations and individuals to work to unlock social and economic opportunities in the area by linking large capital developments and other opportunities (e.g. housing developments, Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Edgbaston Reservoir masterplan etc.) with local skills, talents and enterprises.
The role of Co-operative Futures was to:
- Practically support the ideas generation, feasibility, business planning and start-up of co-operatives and community businesses.
- Promote the idea of social business and encouraging the development of new co-operatives and community groups within the programme area.
- Work with key actors (investors, other decision makers) to explore how social business can be supported in major investment / development decisions.
- Increase awareness of the co-operative movement and the potential for community business, through awareness / training sessions in the area, including ‘Co-op Masterclass’ sessions delivered to sixth formers in schools, in conjunction with Central England Co-op.
- Work directly with local communities in the creation of community development economic plans, which enable the community to take the lead in shaping and improving their local economy, e.g. in the Summerfield area of Birmingham.
- Run community consultation events to generate ideas and to coordinate efforts between community members and local charities to bring under-utilised resources into use, which has helped the community’s voice be heard in official consultations (e.g. Edgbaston Reservoir development).
Identification of opportunities across the wider sector enabled the USE-IT! consortium to signpost beneficiaries to them and resulted in almost £250,000 of additional investment to be brought into the area via other grant and loan providers. Over the length of the project, support was provided to 39 existing social enterprises as well as 36 start-ups.