New year, new co-ops: Manchester

Growth is bringing challenges to Britain’s cities: here is a co-op response from new ventures Friends of Stretford Hall and Projekts MCR

In March 2018, a report from the Centre for Cities thinktank highlighted how UK cities in the north and the Midlands have, since the turn of the century, been transformed by a period of rapid regeneration. In that time, population and jobs growth has far exceeded that of London – as much as six times faster, in some cases.

When measured by a combination of jobs and population increase, Manchester saw the fastest city centre growth in England and Wales in the period 2002-2015, followed closely by Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool. London came 20th.

“This urban renaissance has brought opportunities for people living across these cities and their surrounding areas, and it’s vital that it continues,” says Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities. The focus and conclusion of the report at the time was on the need for cities “to take tough decisions on how to sustain the growth of their commercial centres, while also providing the homes their residents need”.

But another opportunity for the communities in these cities is a co-operative one. During the same period, UK sector body Co-operatives UK has noticed a significant rise in the number of co-ops starting up, developing and growing in communities in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, which are pioneering a different way of doing business – one which puts members at their heart.

In our first edition of 2019, we are highlighting some of the co-operative organisations in these areas – and looking at some newer co-ops working to change ways of working in other sectors: and here is a selection of innovative new co-ops in Manchester.

Home of the Co-operative Group’s head office and a stone’s throw from Rochdale (often hailed as the birthplace of modern co-operation, Manchester has also seen new co-ops emerging, with people and communities take ownership of their own solutions to different issues. Two new – but very differing – examples in this city are the Friends of Stretford Hall and Projekts MCR.

Click here for a look at new co-ops in Birmingham and Liverpool. 

Friends of Stretford Public Hall

The story of Stretford Public Hall is an inspiring one: a group of people banding together to buy a derelict building, and along the way rediscovering the community it was built to serve 150 years ago.

The hall was originally built as a library for the local Stretford community in 1878 by John Rylands, a local philanthropist, aka ‘The Cotton King’ and Manchester’s first multi-millionaire. After decades of community use, the hall closed in 2012. Then, in 2015, the Friends of Stretford Public Hall (FOSPH) was formed to take on the ownership and running of the building for the benefit of the community. FOSPH is a charitable community benefit society that is democratically run by its members on a one-member one-vote basis.

Inside Stretford Hall

In 2017, FOSPH launched a community share offer to raise £250,000 to fund the next phase of refurbishment, transforming the Victorian ballroom so it could host a range of cultural and community events – and generate sufficient income to run the hall sustainably. The offer raised over £255,000 from more than 800 members, with the first £100,000 matched by Power to Change.

Today, the ballroom is used for everything from yoga and a community choir to a cinema, weddings and creative classes – while the hall is also home to affordable workspace studios for artists and a co-working space in the Lofthouse for creatives and start-ups.

“What we could see in the hall was the real opportunities it presented to the community, and the real strength of feeling,” says Dan Williamson, a founding member and trustee at FOSPH.

“It was a real opportunity for the community to take control of a significant asset that would greatly benefit the future of the community and give the community a real stake in the area.”

The story of Stretford Public Hall was featured in the Community Business Fix Podcast in October 2018. Listen at: soundcloud.com/thecommunitybusinessfix

Projekts MCR

At first glance, wasteland under the Mancunian Way flyover, on the edge of Manchester city centre, seems an unusual place for a co-op to set up shop. But that’s exactly what Projekts MCR did in 2004, with the aim of developing people and places through skateboarding and other
skatepark activities.

“We managed to transform disused land under a flyover into a space that is a hive of community activity,” says chief executive John Haines.

“We’re here to support and care for people and welcome people regardless of their background. We set up as a co‑operative because it seemed to
be suitable for a group of people that all had a shared purpose.”

It’s a not-for-profit Co-operative and Community Benefit Society that is focused on making skateboarding accessible to under-represented groups, particularly people living in areas of high deprivation, girls and women and people with disabilities. Over the past 14 years the organisation has used skateboarding to enrich the lives of over 20,000 people, mainly children and young people. The skatepark sees over 18,000 visits a year and Projekts MCR now delivers over 20 coaching sessions a week to schools and youth related groups in Greater Manchester.

In December, the co-op launched a new crowdfunding community share offer to expand the skating area, incorporate a cafe and community area and add in a spectator viewing platform.

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