A ‘Champion’ approach to tackling poverty, the co-operative way – #povertyinwales
Cris Tomos – Robert Owen Co-operator of the year 2012 & Social Enterprise Champion Wales 2013 – has shared his story for Tackling Poverty Fortnight, to explain how a co-operative approach has benefited two West Wales communities:
When a group of local people wish to achieve change for the better, the co-operative community benefit model can result in great things. My story in West Wales began in 2006 when our community of Hermon faced the sad situation of losing its full to capacity village primary school as a result of local authority primary education restructuring. The village of Hermon is a small Welsh community and having lost its shop, post office, garage and the pub being closed for a period, there was little or no public meeting places left in the community. The decision was taken to try and buy the old school site and in 2007 an Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) was formed as a community benefit co-operative. Much support was given by the Co-operatives UK team in Manchester and a constitution agreed and submitted to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) who registered new IPS Companies.
A board of directors was created and we consulted with the community about the level of share price we should aim for. The price was set at £250 per share; we also considered the important issue of including all the community and not having people financially excluded. Having been involved with the setting up of the local Credit Union, our local community financial co-operative, I discussed with the board of the Credit Union about a special shares loan, to allow people to borrow the £250 over 3 years. All agreed it was a great idea thus allowing individuals to repay the share loan at £8.31 a month for 36 months. The share issue documents were distributed and within 4 months we had raised £50,000. With additional fundraising the community put down the deposit for the site. Additional grant applications resulted in the community signing the legal documents and purchasing the site by February 2008.
The community groups have flocked to the new community owned site which is knows as Canolfan Hermon. Within 24 months the number of groups had grown and the number of people within the groups had increased dramatically, as the old Victorian school was too small. Further Big Lottery and Welsh Government bids were submitted and in January 2011 a sum of £450,000 was clinched to develop a new 250 capacity hall with first floor conference rooms and office units. The new timber frame, eco friendly building with solar PV and thermal and air source under floor heating was ready for its first booking in December 2012. To see details about Canolfan Hermon please view www.canolfanhermon.org.uk
From the experiences of the share offer in my home village I was asked to attend a meeting in the nearby town of Cardigan where local people wished to purchase a large redundant area in the centre of Cardigan. There were 2 car parks, 4 store sheds, 2 shops and a house. I explained the process of setting up a Community Benefit Co-operative and all were in agreement that they wished to proceed and try and buy the site. A media campaign and share offer was launched in July 2010. By December 2010 the community co-operative had raised £210,000 in shares, with over 500 shareholders ensuring that the site was now in the possession on the local community. Once again the local Credit Union played an important part, as they had their head office in Cardigan Town. The Credit Union office acted as recipients of the share application forms and banked all the share funds until the new IPS called 4CG Ltd was formed. Since 2010 the new 4CG company has achieved great results in providing low cost parking to help support town traders, has gone on to buy further property such as the old police station, the old court house and old flats that will be changed into tourism bunk house provision. Details of the Cardigan town developments can be viewed on www.4cg.org.uk
Currently on the plans are new co-operatives for community energy and for community affordable housing and business units. It is clear to see that the Credit Union has played a crucial part and with the planned new development there will again be an opportunity for people to borrow from West Wales Credit Union. The Credit Union has expanded considerably from its base in Cardigan and now covers the counties of Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. Further details can be viewed on www.wwcu.co.uk . These examples of co-operatives working together in such a manner can result in positive outcomes for individuals, communities and society in general. Long may the collaboration continue!