Preston City Council has commissioned development co-operative Stir to Action to deliver a groundbreaking new community programme.
Stir to Action are focused on providing targeted support for BAME organisations in the city, stimulating cultural awareness and interest in worker-owned business.
With BAME communities suffering disproportionate impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and systemic racial inequality in the spotlight in recent months, the project – Community Anchors: A Co-operative Recovery– is designed to develop lasting economic security through democratic business ownership.
Community Wealth Building is where local authorities and anchor institutions (such as universities and hospitals) redirect their spending towards locally owned businesses in order to increase local wealth.
It has become a recognised approach advocated to tackle inequalities and support local economic development, with Preston one of its pioneers in the UK.
Despite the success of Community Wealth Building, as with the wider co-operative movement, there have been some difficulties in ensuring that businesses reflect the diversity of modern Britain and work in the most marginalised communities. Though specific demographic data is currently not available, some estimates put the proportion of BAME co-operatives as low as 1 – 2% of the sector as a whole.
In Preston, the Community Anchors: A Co-operative Recovery programme will be co-produced with the groups that will benefit, including:
The programme will support local organisations to become ‘community anchors’ that can promote the cultural relevance and benefits of co-operatives through awareness-raising activities, and also signpost their members and users to the latest funding opportunities and business support.
The six-week programme of webinars and learning circles starts at the beginning of November and ends in early December with plans for next steps and post-programme support.
Omar Khan from Preston United Youth Development Programme said:
“The families we provide services for work in the lowest paid jobs that include takeaways and restaurants, many are self-employed taxi drivers and live in large households with very little if any disposal income. Cooperatives are a relatively unknown entity within our community and require introduction from a trusted community anchor like us. We want to encourage long term sustainable employment for local people created by local people, who then stay in the community and spend the money here.”
Zafar Coupland from Sahara in Preston said:
“We have supported BME women since 1991 and helped many to improve their employability skills and enter the job market. By forming co-operatives women could come together and become small business units.
We have already identified several areas for potential development, including childcare, cooking, sewing, and taxi driving. By being part of a co-operative means they could have an income stream, control over their lives, develop confidence, and build self-reliance and independence.”
The project will be delivered by Stir to Action, itself a co-operative, who in recent years have run a national ‘New Economy Programme’ of one-day workshops on democratic learning and action in five cities. In May, this programme was relaunched in partnership with Power to Change as 20 free webinars to support communities responding to the COVID-19 emergency, with more than 1000 registrations, sessions on crisis crowdfunding, climate emergency, high street regeneration, and community ownership.
The project has also been supported by Co-operatives UK, the network for Britain’s thousands of co-operative businesses.
Jonny Gordon Farleigh, Managing Director of Stir to Action said:
“Developing democratic ownership in all communities is a key part of creating a better future economy, but we need to ensure that everyone is exposed to the opportunities to participate. We’re excited to be working with Preston City Council on this project and move the sector beyond the leafy suburbs.”
The project will involve building partnerships between local groups, as well as inspiring international co-operatives that are operating in different communities.
Last summer Stir to Action were part of a consortium working with Decolonising Economics to bring the founders of Mississippi-based Cooperation Jackson to the UK to deliver a residential training session to support UK-based BAME communities to understand and use their model.
Councillor Nweeda Khan, Cabinet Member for Communities and Social Justice at Preston City Council, said:
“The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on BAME communities who are often among the most vulnerable people in our society.
“I am proud to be part of this ground-breaking project giving minority communities training and opportunities in business that may have previously been out of reach.
“I am excited to see ideas and passions from all parts of our community come together to bring opportunity to minority communities in a way that benefits everyone.”
Councillor Freddie Bailey, Cabinet Member for Community Wealth Building at Preston City Council, said:
“We are pleased to be teaming up with Stir to Action on this exciting project that tackles a deep rooted inequality in our society.
“Community Wealth Building provides a model for communities to come together in shared ownership of business opportunities, and it’s time that these opportunities were made available to everyone.
“I am excited to see what ideas and opportunities arise from this project and to help build on worker cooperatives not just in Preston, but across the region.”
James de le Vigne, Head of Development Unit and Co-operatives UK, said:
“Co-operatives can be pivotal in helping our communities and country build back better from COVID-19. Initiatives like this, which can be replicated across the country, are essential to opening the cooperative movement to parts of our communities that have been hit hardest and stand to gain the most.”