Stir to Action's Strategic Update – Autumn 2022

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written by

Jonny Gordon-Farleigh

Aug 14, 2022

As we talked about in our last update at the turn of the year, 2022 looks to be a significant year in the development of Stir to Action as an organisation, with our work to build democratic economic infrastructure expanding into new areas, and several new additions to our team. Below is a summary of the current status of our work across the different projects and initiatives we are currently involved in. As predicted in our last update, this year has seen us increasingly working on sector strategy, infrastructure, and development on a regional and national level. 


Policy influence & research

We’ve recently started working with Scottish Co-operative Development on a new research project that is supporting objectives in Scotland's National Strategy for Economic Transformation. We’re planning to contribute to a broader review of “how best to significantly increase the number of co-operatives and Employee Ownership Trusts” over the next decade. Rather than following top-down policy targets, we’ll be looking for sector-led recommendations for supporting the ambitions for more worker and employee owners in the Scottish workforce.

You can still read our 2022 report Building democratic cultures, skills, and partnerships in policy-led regions, which inspired our new research project with Scottish Co-operative Development above, which is a new evidence base that shares the direct experiences of democratic business members and advisors who have been working within institutional strategies and economic policy initiatives over the last half-decade, especially Community Wealth Building and the Co-operative Council Innovation Network. 

We’re planning to expand our research with a focus on the psychological health benefits of democratic ownership. Even though it may seem self-evident that co-ownership can support local agency, security, trust, shared risk, and purpose, we’re calling for a new evidence base that can support more access to funding and contracts in responses to the mental and public health crises. We’re actively seeking funding support for this work.

We are now in the second year of core funding from the Friends Provident Foundation to influence policy for democratic businesses at the local and national level. This autumn we are planning to work on a new report that focuses on the local authority experience of working with new policy initiatives. Despite some initial success in certain local authorities, there’s still significant progress to be made in bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders who can be effective in moving from austerity localism towards more democratic economies.

National training & development programmes

We've just started working with Local Trust to work alongside Big Local Partnerships to identify and diversify income and fundraising sources through 1:1 support and events, as part of developing long-term legacy plans. In 2012, Local Trust was established to deliver the Big Local programme, giving 150 communities who have missed out on Lottery and other funding £1.1m each to support local regeneration.

We continue to deliver training sessions for the heritage sector as a learning partner on the Architectural Heritage Trust’s Transforming Places through Heritage programme online and at heritage venues across England. Over the next few months we’re hosting online and local sessions on the role of public bodies in high street regeneration, community engagement, and developing more effective communication for the economic and social value of heritage assets in local communities.

We've recently closed our UK Community Renewal Funded programme – Founders for the Future. In partnership with School for Social Entrepreneurs, Devon Communities Together, and New Prosperity Devon, we launched a programme for young adults in hard-to-reach areas in Devon to create new co-operatives and social enterprises in local food and wellbeing in Mid-Devon. Through a programme of residential courses at Selgars Mill and local venues in Tiverton, our group of young social business leaders made great progress on their business ideas, including a local sail freight co-operative, a community market garden, and local crafting community. All seven Founders took part in the first Community SOUP event at Selgars Mill to launch their ideas to the public, which were also match funded by the School for Social Entrepreneurs. 


Co-operative development

We’re working on a full application to a major UK foundation for a two-year programme to support more community businesses in areas of deprivation in the UK. While the community business sector has seen positive growth in recent years, it has been largely limited to affluent areas, and where there has been developments in economically distressed regions, it is often isolated. So we’re planning to work with a small cohort of community leaders from low-income and capital-light areas to support more replication in similar parts of our economy.

We’re currently partnership building for a new piece of work on bringing communities together through reimagining social and working men’s clubs in the UK. In the 1970s, there were over 4,000 working men’s clubs with 4 million members. Now, there are 1,500 clubs with 825,000 members, according to the Club and Institutes Union. Despite this period of ‘managed decline’, there’s an opportunity to maintain their current use while enlarging their social base to include other parts of the community who could be involved in saving these important local assets.

We're part of a consortium that is working with Islington Council to create the first local government funded Co-operative Development Agency for a few decades. The programme has successfully released £75,000 in grants, business support, and we’re in the process of finalising a long-term business plan. Over the next few months, we’re launching a programme of roundtables focused on sectors in Islington where there may be favourable opportunities for co-operatives to deliver more services, such as social care, foster care, food, and transportation.

Over the last six months, the worker co-operative council within Co-ops UK has been negotiating a new federal relationship to the UK’s apex body. This is an opportunity to offer co-operative businesses a dual membership to both federations, so members can still benefit from Co-ops UK’s services, but also have a new specialist body that can articulate the main concerns and opportunities of this business movement. This Autumn, the council will be engaging existing and prospective members in the process of developing a new membership offer, and working with international partners – such as the inspiring US Worker Cooperative Federation – as part of establishing its mission over the next five years.

We’ve been awarded Reach funding to support our aims to transfer Selgars Mill – our residential training centre for the democratic economy – into community ownership. Working with Dave Boyle at the Community Shares Company to prepare a Community Share Offer in 2023, it will allow social investors to join our new multi-stakeholder co-operative. We’re also seeking Campus Partners, who can use the campus alongside Stir to Action, creating a home and a hub for the democratic economy movement. This Autumn we are launching a light programme of residential courses at the mill ahead of developing a College for the Democratic Economy.


Food security and community ownership 

We’re working with Oldham Council on an 15-month programme – CommunityFed:Oldham – to support the Community Voluntary Sector to transition from emergency food provision to more long-term and local responses to food poverty in the borough. In September we are launching a capacity-building programme of webinars, local workshops, and study visits to inspire new and existing food leaders who are working towards a more sustainable local food system. There are some really exciting initiatives in Oldham, such as Northern Roots – a new 160-acre urban farm and eco-park – and a community orchard managed by Support and Action Women’s Network.

We’re also designing and launching a food security challenge prize in partnership with Oldham Council, offering a package of more than £50,000 in grants, business support, and mentoring. It will be focused on new food enterprises in the start phase – offering £2,500, £5,000 and £7,500 – and also existing food enterprises with a new development idea – offering £10,000, £12,500, and £15,000. The first round of applications will be assessed by the Food Partnership Group, and the final grant awards will be decided through a live crowdfunding event in early 2023.

We've started an 18-month pilot to explore the process of family farm succession, in partnership with Shared Assets, Ecological Land Cooperative, and CSA Network, encouraging family farm owners to transfer land into democratic ownership as part of long-term efforts to support national food security. We’re currently selecting our cohort of family farmers, who we’ll be supporting with their succession plan to encourage more sales or transfers into community or co-operative ownership.

This ‘first phase’ project will create a body of research, identify key learnings from the pilot activities, and will produce recommendations at the levels of both policy and practice. To ensure that these gains and the momentum are not lost, we anticipate developing a second phase of the project to test a number of the proposed solutions. We are interested to hear from funders who could potentially support this work.


Our own programmes & publications

We hosted our annual Playground for the New Economy festival at Selgars Mill in July 2021, joined by 200 people from all across the UK who share a common goal of economic change. Once again the sun shined brightly on our three days of panels, discussions, open space talks and workshops, and we left with a new set of connections and inspiration. With big thanks to this year’s festival sponsors: Power to Change, Lankelly Chase, CCIN, Locality, Transition Together, Cwmpas (formerly Wales Co-op Centre), and Confederation of Co-operative Housing.

We’re now working on the Urban Playground for the New Economy festival set for 19-20 May at the community-owned Stretford Public Hall in Manchester! We’re currently engaging sponsors to support the event. More information here.


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