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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Gain community ownership of natural assets: Our ancestors – who worked together on common land and managed local woodland as communities – would have despaired at today’s concentration of land ownership and gated communities. A new commons movement is rebuilding community ownership of parks, woodlands and even mountains.
- House-build for the common good: Rather than allowing housebuilders, developers and property owners to extract all the value from new developments, there are a number of ways in which that value can be used for the benefit of the wider community. Community Land Trusts are gaining momentum across the UK as housing becomes increasingly out of the reach of many. Community-controlled and owned, they hold land in trust so that housing remains permanently affordable.New garden cities are reviving Ebenezer Howard’s model, which spread the increased value of development to build community infrastructure.
- Set up community finance mechanisms: New forms of local finance are needed to drive a co-operative revolution. In many places local banks and investment clubs help support co-operative development. In the US urban community land trusts have flourished with the help of city-CLT relationships, in which the local government supports and helps fund new developments. In Germany the KfW public bank provides capital at 1% to local co-operative banks and municipal savings banks for local investment.
- Fund the platform: Co-ops and collaborative ventures rely on civic participation, and when it comes to participation, the wider and deeper the better. Organisations like Civic Systems Lab have learnt that the creation of an open platform, on which citizens are invited to co-build the projects and services they want, has greater impact than pre-defined projects that limit involvement. Good examples are Singeldingen, a kiosk in a park in Rotterdam that has become a base from which locals run an endless range of activities during the summer months, and Incredible Edible Todmorden, which invited the whole town to become food growers.
- Open a Mayor’s Living Room – or similar neighbourhood space: An empty property on a street corner in Rotterdam, previously a place for anti-social behavior, has become the meeting place for the whole neighbourhood. In the so-called Mayor’s Living Room the local community comes together to cook, hold meetings, play music and hang out. Households can become members and pay €3 a month, which helps upkeep the building. Residents come together to celebrate national holidays and, as described in the Community Lovers Guide to Rotterdam, ‘young and old, local residents and professionals, everyone has found a place in our living room’.
This article excerpted, with permission, from www.newstartmag.co.uk.