Co-operative Chorlton

How we could reimagine our Chorlton as a co-operative place. 

Discussion Paper: Cooperative Chorlton – from Shaun Fensom : live draft.

Why Chorlton?

Chorlton is a very cooperative place.

Unicorn – now 25 years old – is famous nationally for why, how and what it sells. Our community land trust has very strong buy-in from the people of Chorlton, shown by the response to the call for investment to buy the Picture House. Chorlton Bike Deliveries has inspired everyone – a brilliant example of a sustainable pandemic response. The Co-op store on Hardy Lane has been continually trading as a cooperative since it was built almost 100 years ago. Stitched Up and Red Brick show how a cooperative approach provides extra energy for new ventures in Chorlton.

This cooperative spirit makes an opportunity for us to create something really unique, a way for the people of Chorlton to share responsibility for making it an even better place.

Taking the next step

Local councils up and down the country that use cooperative approaches in how they deliver services – and stimulate the economy – have joined together in the Cooperative Council Innovation Network.

Some, famously like Preston, have gone furthest, encouraging the formation of cooperatives to bid for public service contracts, as part of a strategy to keep wealth local and create a more circular economy.

Larger co-operatives like the Co-op Group – itself headquartered in Manchester have turned to investing in their communities through initiatives like the Local Community Fund (which has generated thousands for Chorlton organisations like The Edge), and the Co-operate app and website.

Communities like ours have adopted cooperative models to take ownership of land through Community Land Trusts, to save local pubs and stores through community share issues, and most recently to respond to the pandemic with models like Chorlton Bike Deliveries.

In all these cases the aim is to tackle problems and find answers – based on shared ownership of the problems and shared control of the solutions. This is what cooperative approaches make possible, drawing on effective and efficient governance and commercial models developed over 150 years (much of this led from Manchester). Models like the Cooperative Society and Community Benefit Society legal forms that make it easy to issue share capital, for example using the Community Shares model. Or the FCA-regulated governance that can be used to guarantee neutrality and/or equity, based on one member one vote.

Now we can take this a step further: from Chorlton as a place where cooperative approaches thrive – to a place that is itself cooperative. Where we share responsibility for what needs doing and share the benefit of the answers we create.

How this could work

We have many plans for things we can do by working together. We have talked about creating an information sharing hub website. Or creating a shared ecommerce solution combining local traders. We have looked at how we might share use of the Picture House for community benefit alongside its sustainable commercial operation.

Local people have been inspired to join and take part in the Community Land Trust and Chorlton Bike Deliveries cooperatives, without being directly involved in planning or cycling themselves. We saw the same spirit when Unicorn issued loan stock to finance its expansion some years ago.

We could create something that taps this spirit to build a financial and governance platform for taking our ideas forward. An incorporation of Let’s Reimagine as a community cooperative.

We can start very simply by creating a cooperative. Here we can draw on the experience of Middleton Cooperating. They would be happy to share their legal design and experience so far in building a cooperative based around a place.

Our cooperative could then raise modest finance, in three ways:

  • With a membership fee. Something small and affordable like £12 a year.
  • By offering cooperative share capital. This is unique financial instrument that has been very successfully used to raise funds while offering a modest return to investors.
  • By using our success to win funding. Middleton Cooperating is hoping (and expecting) to be awarded very significant funding from the Lottery to enable it to hire 5 members of staff.

We can create a name and website for it, taking the first steps towards realising the vision of a cooperative hub site developed by Claire.

Chorlton and District Coops would be happy for such an initiative to take over – which is a great name. We could call our cooperative ‘’. Or we could use something else.

Save Our Bank would be happy to let use its tried and tested website software specifically designed to take small regular payments from 1000+ members – currently raising £15k+ each year. The same software allows members to take part in votes and polls. If we could attract 1,000 members in Chorlton we’d have a reasonable budget to launch initiatives to raise more funds while developing our on-line platform.

What we might do next

With this platform to build from – an organisation, a model for governing it, some funds, and a way to attract more – we could launch new plans and initiatives.

  • Realising the full vision of the information sharing site.
  • Creating a shared site and e-commerce interface for Chorlton traders
  • Developing viable business models to take advantage of a successful bid for the Picture House – for example the organisation and running of the food hall.

Just for starters.

This document

Contact Shaun if you are interested in developing this idea.