Guess what? We’ve been awarded a £250k grant by Islington Council to run a massive programme of support for cooperatives in the borough. This is pretty big news folks!
This means that this year we will:
- Set up a brand new Cooperative Development Agency, with its own governing body and membership. We’re developing a business model with a mix of funding and commercial revenue to make sure the CDA is sustainable years into the future beyond this initial injection of funding from Islington.
- Give out £75,000 in grants to new or early-stage coops who want to operate in Islington, or established co-ops who want to expand into the borough. These groups will also be given up to 7 days of bespoke mentoring and training from an experienced cooperative development advisor. They’ll also be given free space in SPACE4.
- Run a series of public events and training to raise awareness of coops and boost skills needed to run a successful cooperative business.
- Host sector-by-sector roundtables, and build relationships with ‘anchor institutions’ and other big buyers in the borough to help them make their supply chains more local and more cooperative. We’ll be identifying their needs and looking for opportunities to adapt their procurement processes. This means, hopefully, that coops here in Islington will have customers ready to purchase their goods and services.
One thing that makes this project new for us at Outlandish is that we won’t be focusing on developing tech coops. Instead, we’ll be focusing our efforts on developing cooperatives in the ‘Foundational Economy’ – goods and services that people need to access regardless of their income or social status.
We’ll be seeking to support the care sector (childcare and adult social care), education, housing, utilities and food supply. I’m personally also excited to develop cooperatives within traditional trades like plumbing and building, since they’re such big employers and key to developing a green economy. This is not to say that we’ll be ignoring tech – there’s still a place for tech co-ops in all of this, as well as training for everyone about how to use and build sensible tech.
In true co-op style, we’re collaborating with a number of amazing organisations, so that we can reach more people and make the project a success. We’ll be working with Hackney Cooperative Developments, Principle Six, Stir to Action, and Cooperation Town. Each of these organisations have a unique specialism and bring a huge amount of knowledge and contacts to the programme.
It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to run a project like this in London. There’s been a fair bit of press about Community Wealth Building over the past 5 years or so, though in the UK it’s mostly focused on whole cities like Preston and Plymouth. We’ll also be drawing inspiration from further afield in places like Cleveland Ohio, Jackson Mississippi, and Barcelona Spain/Catalonia. In these places, communities, often facilitated by local government, are coming together to create a fairer, more inclusive economy that puts cooperative values and principles at its heart.
Islington is one of the country’s most economically unequal boroughs, so the need to reimagine economics here seems pretty important to me. There are pockets of huge wealth, and a liberal helping of massive companies here, yet they exist cheek by jowl with areas of acute deprivation, and populations who can scarcely access decent work.
Islington Council is really breaking the mould in its approach to bringing about more equality and economic justice. For years now, they have been championing the cooperative model, and growing their Inclusive Economy team to deliver joined-up initiatives to reimagine services. They share our belief that democratising businesses, and the economy more generally, is one of the most important ways to address disadvantage.
I’m extremely proud to have got to this stage with the development of SPACE4. I think that if we pull this project off this year, we’ll be really grounded in our local community, as well as in the international cooperative community.