Co-op school faces battle for survival

CO-OPERATIVE Action has awarded a second grant to support a tiny primary school that is fighting to survive as a co-operative in a remote Cumbrian village. Lowick School...

CO-OPERATIVE Action has awarded a second grant to support a tiny primary school that is fighting to survive as a co-operative in a remote Cumbrian village.
Lowick School ? serving an isolated rural community near Coniston Water ? was ordered to close in August, when state backing was withdrawn by a cost-cutting county council.
But the 150 year-old Victorian primary school decided enough was enough ? and began rallying support for a survival plan as the country&#039s first state-funded co-op school.
In the summer, however, the new model for a community-led school failed to convince the education authority and, in September, Lowick New School began the new term as a non-fee paying independent ? with just 16 pupils.
Now the fundraising programme to finance the future has been boosted by a second grant of &#163 21,600 from the Co-operative Action Foundation ? adding to the &#163 28,000 announced earlier this year.
"Lowick New School has become a pioneer in co-operative education," said Stephen Youd-Thomas of the Co-operative Action Foundation. "It has captured the imagination of a society that hadn&#039t thought of a school being run as a co-op. As a result, many people are now intrigued to find out more about co-operation and how it can be applied to schools in urban as well as rural areas along with other forms of service and business.
"Lowick is a tiny community that is standing up to some formidable forces of establishment authority to fight for something it believes in. That&#039s something everyone can relate to ? which explains the level of support and respect the campaign is achieving."
The village school had already survived two rounds of rural closures in the past 50 years. But, this time campaigners argued that democratically accountable control of the school by the local community was the best way to serve children and sustain a threatened community.
The first Co-operative Action grant financed dialogue with the Secretary of State for Education, the DfES, Cumbria education authorities, the Church Diocese of Carlisle, local, regional and national organisations and extensive consultation with the Lowick and Blawith community.
It also supported the formal statutory proposal to the county council, the design of an outline legal structure for a multi-stakeholder co-operative and the creation of a co-operative model that could be replicated by any state or independent school.
Now, Phase Two of the action plan will enable the registration of Community Learning Lowick ? the not-for-profit industrial and provident society that is key to the implementation of the co-operative approach to education provision. It is, says Noel Spendlove, a pathfinder project ? "a self-help flagship for co-operative education in Britain."
Noel, chair of the Lowick and Blawith Educational Trust and a South Lakeland District councillor, explained: "It represents a positive self-help solution for the future of rural education; a real alternative that applies the values and principles of the Co-operative Movement and can be used by other communities that are facing the similar loss of a key rural service."
Co-operative Action&#039s second grant will also fund an action research programme to help generate new income streams and develop sustainable financial support for the school.
The Co-operative Group&#039s local stores have been selling the school&#039s CD, Be Somebody Today, and have introduced an initiative that enables members to donate their dividend to support the school.
Rose Bugler, chair of governors at the school, has been able to support the school in her role as a Social Enterprise Development Officer in the Enterprising Communities project at Voluntary Action Cumbria.

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