Tag: Community

Take Five

Jaye Martin 03Jaye Martin is a specialist adviser who joined Co-operative Development Scotland this summer. Here she shares her experience of what it’s like to work at Scotland’s co-operative and employee-owned enterprise development organisation.

It’s already six months into my new role as a CDS specialist adviser, focussing on collaborative business models, so now is as good a time as any to pause for a moment and take stock of my top five experiences so far in what has been an exciting and challenging few months.


 1. The CDS Collaboration Prize

PrintThis has been a revelation for me as I’d never been involved behind the scenes of a competition before – unless you count making up a quiz sheet for Comic Relief to sell around my village when I was 12! We were overwhelmed with the quality of the collaborative ideas contained in the applications this year and it’ll be a valuable learning experience for me to be involved in the strategy sessions for the winners when they take place in due course. Excitingly, we are poised to announce our winners shortly so watch this space…


2. New consortia

We support so many groups of businesses and communities across Scotland in exploring and formalising their ideas for collaboration and I love the variety this work provides. To mention only a few of the new collaborations we’ve advised so far this year: Destination Stirling, the new tourism group supported by Stirling Council, Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland; Scottish Mountain Biking Consortium, a group of like-minded businesses committed to developing the best family mountain biking experiences, packages and solutions in Scotland; and Community of Raasay Retail Association (CORRA), the community group behind the purchase of the only shop on Raasay.


3. Community shares

On my second day at CDS, I attended our Advisory Board session on ‘Community Shares – Realising the Potential’. Of great interest was a presentation by Hugh Rolo of the Community Shares Unit in England. Their newly launched dedicated web platform for community share issues, Microgenius, is a potential game-changer for this growing sector. We are seeing increasing interest in community co-operatives in Scotland, particularly in relation to renewable energy generation (wind, hydro) and broadband projects.


4. Tweeting

Another revelation. Somewhere between dinosaur and sceptic when it came to social media,CDS Twitter I can now see the real value in tweeting, blogging and their ilk – there is the potential to strike up dialogue with like-minded individuals and organisations and to spread the word about co-operative business models. Follow me @CDSjaye and us @cdscotland to find out more!


5. Collective Futures workshop

I was pleased to be asked to present on the consortium co-operative model at one of the Collective Futures workshops. This is an exploratory project to define the nature and form of co-operative business models used by designer/makers to sustain and grow their creative businesses. The project is itself a collaboration between Gray’s School of Art, University of the West of Scotland, Glasgow School of Art and a selection of residents who are practising designers/makers from all over Scotland. I was (unsurprisingly) impressed at the creativity used to facilitate the discussion on collectives, particularly the ‘mood boards’ which caused much hilarity (one included a photo of Katy Perry being blasted into outer space) but also revealed inner thoughts about the pros and cons of collaboration.

And as for my top moment outwith CDS…? It has to be when a boy from Dunblane lifted the Wimbledon trophy on that oven-hot day in July. Let’s hope the next six months are just as exciting!


Community co-operatives – realising the potential

Karen BirchThe nature of communities in modern society is evolving, but their role remains more important than ever.

Here Karen Birch, managing editor of 3rdi magazine, a leading voice of the co-operative sector, assesses the value of co-operative community enterprises.

Karen is also a member of Co-operative Development Scotland’s (CDS) Advisory Board.


Community co-operatives are organisations set up to provide services to a particular community which use co-operative principles to guide their activities. 

A local community, such as a village or a block of flats, has physical boundaries which makes it easy to recognise. But in the increasingly complex world most of us inhabit many different communities exist and playing different roles. For example, we may be a member of a faith group, a volunteer for a charity and or a member of a local sports team.

Almost every activity which involves people coming together for common purpose has the potential to create a co-operative community enterprise. The co-operative enterprise I am most closely involved with, the 3rdi magazine, is just such a community with women and men3rdilogo5 from across the UK coming together to create an on-line magazine which looks at business issues from an ethical perspective.

We do not serve a local community but rather serve a community with a shared interest in ethical business practices and in furthering equality and diversity in the workplace. Community is an active condition reinforced by active membership with people choosing to identify with and support community values and purpose. 

Community Investment involves members of that community buying shares in an enterprise that serves that community. It gives people a stake in the success of that enterprise. Common ownership puts the assets of the community co-operative in a similar relationship to its members as the village green is to the inhabitants of a village. Everyone has use of the asset but no one person has title or claim and no one person can dig it up and take it away. 

Throughout the last century, the model of community action has been one of volunteering and was heavily reliant on grant-funding from public sector bodies and individual philanthropy. This is not sustainable. I am a fan of enterprise and I’ve run successful businesses for the last 20 years. I see community enterprise as a real alternative to the market failures in the private sector and the continual withdrawal of funding from the public sector. 

Community enterprises provide goods and services to meet the needs of their communities. Community shareholders, unlike traditional shareholders, only expect a fair return not a maximal or rapid return on their investment. This long-term alignment of shareholders to the needs of the community enterprise, promotes long-term sustainability over short-term profit-taking. 

At a time when many communities are faced with the loss of local amenities this change in focus is, I think, crucial. And community shareholders are also far more likely to get involved, to become active supporters of the enterprise, and not just remain as consumers of products and services.

This engagement also strengthens the business model. It creates role flexibility: as customer and supplier and employee and owner is a true stakeholder model, and is more robust and sustainable than the traditional supplier-to business-to customer model. It is this combination of engagement, flexibility and sustainability that leads me to conclude that we need more community enterprise and ownership.

So, what sort of services can community co-operatives provide? Examples are wide ranging and reflect the needs of the communities they serve. These include a crèche in a tower block containing many single-parent families which has enabled them to seek work, through to a launderette in a housing estate.

Most successful community share issues focus on an asset, which is why community shops, pubs and community buildings have featured amongst the big success stories for co-operative community enterprise. As an Advisory Board Member of Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS), I’ve seen first-hand how shared ownership enables communities to develop services such as utilities and broadband, and this can work particularly well in remote regions.

However, just because a community lacks a service that it wants, it does not automatically mean that there is a viable business model that can meet that need. As with any business an opportunity only exists if there is sufficient demand from customers willing to pay a reasonable price for the goods or services provided.

With our long term energy future, particularly our reliance on fossil fuels, looking increasingly insecure, more and more attention is being drawn to renewables. Local communities are rightly seeking to benefit from renewable energy projects based in their vicinity.

By coming together to form a co-operative the local community can receive a direct financial benefit from the development and can use any profits generated to re-invest in other community projects. The profit generated stays within the community rather than rewarding shareholders outside the area.

Harlaw Hydro Electric directors (from left): Martin Petty, Simon Dormer, Lynn Molleson and Ian Hynd – pictured at Harlaw Reservoir.

A good example of this is Harlaw Hydro Limited whose purpose is to own and operate a micro-Hydro scheme. It will generate revenue by selling ‘green’ hydro-electricity. The income generated will allow Harlaw Hydro Ltd to contribute to other projects and initiatives within the local area through the Balerno Village Trust. It is 80 per cent of the way to raising £313,000 through a share offer scheme.

CDS works in partnership with other organisations such the Co-operative Enterprise Hub to help communities develop community co-operatives in the renewable energy and broadband arena. The benefit of this model is that co-owners are involved in decision-making. Income can be invested back into the community through local projects or distributed among the members.

From my perspective the key is enterprise and long-term viability and I think that the model of ownership and engagement in community co-operatives means that they can be more robust and sustainable than either their private sector or charitable counterparts.

If you like the sound of this way of doing business do sign up or visit our website: www.the3rdimagazine.co.uk/ and follow us on Twitter, @the3rdimagazine

Co-operative Development Scotland is a Scottish Enterprise subsidiary, established to help companies grow by setting up consortium, employee-owned and community businesses. It works in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise.


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