£8m community development programme launched to grow co-ops

The five-year programme from Co-operatives UK and Power to Change will look at ways to build better communities and reduce inequality

A community development programme has been launched by Co-operatives UK and Power to Change that will see £8m being funnelled into seven areas across England.

The five-year programme, which is funded by the independent charitable trust Power to Change, will focus on working with community-based organisations in these areas, providing them grants, support and practical tools to help create new networks of co-ops and community businesses.

The initiative aims to show how concentrated clusters of co-ops and community businesses can build better communities and reduce inequality in local areas.

Co-operatives UK, the apex body for co-ops, will be managing the programme on behalf of Power to Change and working in partnership with the New Economics Foundation, Centre for Local Economic Strategies and Kineo.

Power to Change selected seven catalyst areas that will benefit from this programme:

Vidhya Alakeson, chief executive of Power to Change said: “Empowering Places is the first of our three place-based programmes to launch and probably our most revolutionary. By working at a grass-roots level, we will be truly handing over the power for economic regeneration to local communities. The results are already highly promising in Plymouth and we have high expectations of the programme’s roll-out.”

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, added: “Empowering Places has the potential to be truly transformational. By focusing on just seven areas we will be able to channel time and resources into supporting some incredible organisations. By helping them to inspire a flourishing co-op and community business sector we will together be giving people a stake in their local economy and a share of the wealth they generate.”

One of the pilot projects started in Plymouth where the Real Ideas Organisation (RIO) has been working with micro-enterprises, co-ops and social enterprises in the communities of Stonehouse and Devonport. As part of this, they have taken on buildings, including the once derelict Devonport Guildhall, and transformed them into enterprising spaces that support start-ups and social enterprises, creating jobs and physical regeneration in the area.

Through the Empowering Places programme, ROI will continue its work promoting community businesses, providing public-facing communications; events and established local hubs that bring people together and raise awareness of this model.

Lindsey Hall of RIO said: “Empowering Places is a brilliant, very welcome, innovative approach to long-term investment into specific communities to explore the role co-produced community business can play in solving entrenched problems people face every day.

“Having been involved in piloting the programme and now being nearly a year in, we have already seen how transformative it can be for individuals to have support to realise ideas they have dreamt about, sometimes for years.

“It is also having a positive effect on the eco-system of community economic development, building new networks and ways of working to tackle issues that have festered for years. RIO is delighted to be a catalyst. We are very much looking forward to the new community businesses that will emerge in the next few years; to solving some problems; and to collaborating and sharing learning with other catalysts across England.”

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