Event Report:“Meet the Co-operatives” at Unicorn Grocery, Chorlton #Manchester

70 people, 9 co-operatives, one inspiring evening. MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson reports.

Many MCFly readers will know Unicorn Grocery, a Workers’ Co-op in Chorlton (and if you don’t, visit their website, then their store!). This is the fourth “Meet the…” meeting they have held, and was every bit as busy and successful as the previous ones.

In her brief introduction, Debbie Clarke of Unicorn pointed out that cooperatives are a distinct and radical way of organising a business around social goals, with democracy embedded; that 2012 is the United Nation year of co-operatives; and that there’s a very big (10,000 people) international conference to close out that year, here in Manchester at the end of October.

First up of the nine presentation was Nancy Brown of Rochdale Pioneers Museum (the Co-operative movement traces is roots to Rochdale, 1844) After showing this film –

she whipped through many slides. Most interesting, from a volunteering/resilience/having a good time on an imperilled planet was the concept of “Five Ways to Wellbeing.”

Next up, and briefest of all was an architect, Steven, of Loop Systems Coop. They’re working with Unicorn on some redevelopments/improvements in the building. After that, Simon of the handmade bakery (near Huddersfield) gave a brief account of the coop’s birth and growth. And the bread, on sale in Unicorn? To die for (1)

Jonathan Atkinson, who will be heckled extensively (2) on Wednesday night at the Community Green Deal event at Manchester Town Hall, then explained the Carbon Coop, a subject hopefully familiar to MCFly readers. It’s a consumer co-op for households, using the ability to bulk buy from reliable providers to help Joe and Jane Public deal with the questions of where to start, who to trust and how to pay for it all. He ended by suggesting people become members, become community champions or help spend DECC money on a “whole house approach.”

After the bread, the coffee- a chap called Abiyot Shiferaw from the Oromo Coffee Company explained the financial and social (health, education etc) benefits to the growers in Oromia (Ethiopia) in being organised as sellers.

Next up, Phil Benn talked about “Tree Station” a “new and big project” looking at using virgin timber (i.e not palettes and dead beds) to the best possible use. Tree Station, which is a “society for the benefit of the community” is looking for investors and members.

Next up, Unicorn Grocery, in what they conceded was a “shameless bit of self-promotion” showed a short film made for their 15th birthday (last year). Fun fact: they donate 1% to local projects, 4% to projects abroad.

After this, Linda Shaw of the Co-operative College talked about some of the work they are doing in East Africa (especially Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia). She bigged up the website www.stories.coop, with its daily inspiring stories of co-op action.

Then a football interlude – Phil Frampton talked about FC United of Manchester, established in 2005 by football fans who wanted to support a team that supported a community. Tickets to the home matches are cheap (£2 for kids, £8 for adults), and alongside the first team there is a youth team and a newly formed women’s team (which has scored 45 goals in its 4 matches!). Mr Frampton, and his colleague Helen, a nutritionist, were emphatic that it’s more than about a pig bladder being kicked between white sticks. The club is developing a food policy about what food is provided on match days. They want fresh wholesome food, from local suppliers and co-operatives.

Final slot was delivered by Katie Brandon for Manchester Veg People, a coop containing both growers and buyers of local organic veg. MCFly readers with particularly elephantine memories may remember this story.

After this film –

she explained that the coop is supplying restaurants and caterers, but is only selling local and seasonal food. There is a “crop planning” meeting at the beginning of every season, and growers try not to duplicate (i.e. End up competing). Partly because of the very bad weather this year, the radius of “local” has expanded from 30 to 50 miles, and now includes a large farm near Ulmskirk.

After these presentation there were various questions, mostly of clarification, and then time for people to buy beers, bread (I did mention the bread, yes?) mingle and schmooze and try to blag some more delicious soup from Unicorn. And even to buy a book from local Facebook addict and professional religion-baiting curmudgeon Paul Fitzgerald. His new book is “The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel” is formally launched on Saturday 13th October at the Sandbar, Grosvenor St.

So, a very successful event. The venue is bursting at the seams for this sort of thing, and Unicorn’s “brand” is I think big enough to survive a future “Meet the…” event being held somewhere that will accommodate 150. One suggestion for improvement – before going straight into a Q and A, have audience members turn to someone they don’t know, intro themselves and then test out/refine potential questions. That should see a sea of hands going up, instead of the usual suspects who are then later followed by newbies realising that the question quality is not, after all, impossibly high.

Marc Hudson

1) This post is 10 minutes later being published than it would otherwise have been: I stood in the kitchen making grunting noises as I savoured slices, then fought a successful battle to stop myself scarfing more).

2) Mostly by Charlie Baker.

I know many, and have done drunken and/or illegalish things with several of the people mentioned in this report. But that was long ago, in another country, and besides, the movement is dead.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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