10 ideas for change: Co-operative local economies

Co-operative 4cg has taken control of a number of local assets in Ceredigion

As the cracks in corporate capitalism deepen, the co-operative economy is gaining strength. Rooted in community and in the democratisation of ownership, co-operative structures allow citizens to reclaim power over their workplaces, their open spaces, their housing, shops and public realm. Here are ten ideas for building grassroots democratic economies:

1. Take over local shops: Community-run shops – and pubs and petrol stations and libraries – have grown in the UK in recent years, particularly in rural areas. In Ceredigion a co-operative called 4cg began by fighting back against a supermarket planning to move into the town. Through a series of share issues it has communally purchased land and buildings and offers cheap parking and facilities. Its assets now include a community shop as an outlet for local producers and a children’s centre. In a remote island in Maine in New England, employees bought out the three main retail businesses in the town to create the largest worker co-op in the state.

2. Support the development of co-ops: New York City’s most recent budget includes $1.2m for the development and support of worker-owned co-ops, the biggest investment ever made by a city government in the US. In the Bronx, the Green Worker Co-operatives runs a Co-op Academy to help new co-ops get off the ground. The Fund for Democratic Communities supports the development of democratic communities in southern states of the US. In the UK there are a number of development agencies including the Wales Co-operative Centre, Co-operative Development Scotland and Co-operatives UK.

renaissance coop
The campaign for a community-run grocery store in Greensboro, North Carolina

3. Build community media: The centralisation and corporatisation of media has huge implications for local development and democracy. In many places local newspapers have succumbed to market forces and closed their doors. But a movement of co-operative and community-run media businesses is building. Sheffield is home to the UK’s first local television community benefit society, Sheffield Live TV, funded by community shares, and in France a crowdfunding campaign to save regional daily Nice-Matin and convert it into a worker’s co-operative beat its target of €300,000. The West Highlands Free Press has been running for over 40 years and is now employee-owned.

4. Mutualise the local economy: Sheffield co-operative Regather’s ambitious mission is to create a mutual local economy. It helps local people exchange goods and services with each other, expand co-operative working and build collective resources. In Dalston in east London, the Hackney Co-operative Developments supports and incubates cooperative and locally-run businesses.

5. Take over the local football club: The most recent issue of New Start shone a light on the growing number of supporter-led football clubs and the power of community-run clubs to boost their local economy. As big clubs get ever more remote from the communities in which they are based, Supporter’s Direct is helping a new wave of supporter-led clubs to emerge.

Clare Goff

Clare Goff

Clare Goff is editor of New Start magazine

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