Co-operatives respond to a future for food

Awareness of the Co-operative Movement is increasing at a rapid rate. From high profile media coverage of how community ownership holds the answer to the problem of declining...

Despite this increased awareness, however, there is still a long way to go in understanding the practicalities that make community enterprises work. As part of a drive to encourage more communities to embrace community ownership, the Plunkett Foundation is working with Co-operatives UK to promote best legal and governance practice as part of a national programme to support community food enterprises. 

The Making Local Food Work programme has already supported over 900 community food enterprises to help over 1.4 million people gain better access to locally-produced food. In a sector that encourages enterprising and innovative approaches to community involvement, how do they work practically to become the widespread success story of the sector that they are today?

Co-operatives UK and Making Local Food Work collaborate to provide free training and advice to enterprises like Yorkshire-based community-owned shop Green Valley Grocer.  Green Valley Grocer is an award-winning community shop based in the heart of the Colne Valley, near Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire. Advised by Co-operatives UK as part of Making Local Food Work, they raised funding through a community share issue to reopen their valuable rural service and provide a real hub in the community. 

Community shares enable all members of the community to have a say in the running of the business, and through wider engagement of the community in this way the venture is sure to receive widespread support. After registering as Slaithwaite Co-operative Ltd, Green Valley Grocer collaborated with local artisan bakers The Handmade Bakery to share premises and extend their services to the community. They were advised throughout the process by Co-operatives UK which has provided training on issues like good governance and legal structures. 

Their far-reaching success has also meant they are able to play a leading role in the development of the community food sector through Making Local Food Work’s new Local Food Systems project, which is working with food groups across the country to find the best means of providing a sustainable local food system through co-operation. 

Another community to reap the benefits of good governance guidance is Gawsworth in Cheshire, which this month celebrated the official opening of their community-owned shop after a long battle to save it from closure. 

After the threat of losing such a vital service, the community came together to raise the second-highest amount ever through community shares of over £60,000. They were assisted in their registration as an Industrial and Provident Society for the Benefit of the Community (IPS BenCom) by Co-operatives UK, and in doing so made sure each member of the community had a fair and democratic say in the running of the shop. 

By being a part of the Making Local Food Work programme, Co-operatives UK has played a role in helping the 900 community food enterprises across the UK that the programme has supported, and has helped increase access to local food for over 1.4 million people. 

The programme, due to end in 2012, can still provide help to any community food enterprise wishing to take advantage of free help and support, from a community-owned shop to a food buying group. 

• To find out more about the support available, visit: www.makinglocalfoodwork.co.uk or www.uk.coop. Katherine Darling is the Communications Officer for the Plunkett Foundation 

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