Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Community Schemes Are Paying Dividends

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Community Schemes Are Paying Dividends

Article excerpt

Byline: CO-OPERATIVES Ian Robson

DOING it together can be a lucrative proposition for the growing number of co-operative businesses.

At a time when the economic climate is claiming the scalps of traditional companies, the UK economy's success story lies in the sector.

Since the start of the credit crunch, co-operatives have outperformed the UK economy growing by around 20% to more than PS35bn since 2008.

Membership of co-operatives in the UK is up to 15.4m - the highest ever - and up 13.7% since last year.

There are now a record number of co-operatives in the UK with 6,169 different projects.

And those figures are not to be sniffed at as communities rally together to achieve wonders.

Co-Op Fortnight, which runs until July 6, has put the spotlight on the many initiatives.

Co-operatives can turn up anywhere, anyone can be involved, and can do anything.

They include the villagers of Slaley, Northumberland, raising money to buy their own pub.

Norman Watson is chairman of Slaley Community Assets Ltd aiming to buy the Rose and Crown from brewers Marstons for PS250,000.

The group have almost raised enough to go ahead with the purchase.

Watson said: "The pub had been very popular in its time and was well used when it was in private ownership.

"It was taken over by a brewery but it could not get a tenant to stay more than six months and people stopped going when it no longer provided food.

"We have a community trust charged with looking after the village and discussions about buying the pub started there.

"I work in the co-operative sector specialising in employee buy-outs when the owner wants to retire so I knew what to do.

"We have now raised PS170,000 from villagers and former villagers who want to protect an asset.

"We have promised a dividend, perhaps not in the first year, but certainly in the second and third years.

"It's been a lot of effort but it's going to be worthwhile."

The plan is to appoint a manager and oversee essential renovations with the restaurant hopefully being back up and running by the end of this year.

If the community hadn't decided to buy it the Rose and Crown would have gone on the open market with no guarantee of it continuing as a pub. Norman emphasises that a co-operative is about making money.

That's a theme picked up by Jane Byrne, spokeswoman for the Fortnight, who says the image of small groups of civic-minded people running a co-operative for a cosy feeling of helping the community is only part of the story.

She said: "I don't think people understand. They are often seen as "nice" but it's as much about profit.

"Having said that, some of the most successful are those where people in the community have a stake in what's going on whether it's buying a pub or running a shop. …

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