Creating a new generation of co-operatives

Derry~Londonderry has a long history of collective endeavour, which has led to some of the city’s most successful businesses being co-operative and social enterprises. A new initiative is seeking to create the latest generation of community based businesses, which may be structured either as co-operative or community benefit societies.

Co-operative and community benefit societies are democratic social enterprises. Co-operatives are businesses run on the principle of one member, one vote. One of the world’s most successful democratic businesses owned by its own members is based here – the Derry Credit Union.

Creggan Enterprises, which owns and manages the Rath Mor Centre, is an example of an enterprising and progressive community-owned businesses. Derry’s city centre would look completely different – and much less impressive – if it had not been for the regeneration led by another community enterprise, the Inner City Trust.

Across Northern Ireland we have many more co-operatives – in some cases they are major employers, such as the Fane Valley and United Dairy Farmers agricultural co-operatives. In many parts of Donegal, co-operatives are still the foundation blocks of the local economy in small towns and villages. One example which is famous across the world is the Templecrone Co-operative, better known as ‘The Cope’, which was started in 1906.

New co-operatives and community benefit societies are now springing up across Northern Ireland. In Derry~Londonderry we have the Craft Village Collective. Elsewhere examples include Union Taxis and Causeway Coast Artists.

The Belfast Cleaning Co-operative is an important cross community initiative where workers have set-up their own business to provide good working conditions and security of employment in a sector well-known for exploitative working practices.

Businesses can be structured to be the benefit of their communities – these are community benefit societies. Down to Earth is developing its plans to become Northern Ireland’s first provider of green burials. In County Down, Drumlin Wind Energy is operating wind turbines with a share of the financial benefits going to investing members and local residents.

Such projects are financed by what are called ‘community shares’.

In an era of reduced public funding, community shares offer community organisations a tried and tested way to raise capital – and to harness people’s goodwill as members of democratic organisations. Community shares are only available to co-operative or community benefit societies. These societies are straightforward to establish.

Co-operative Alternatives is the only body in Northern Ireland dedicated to developing successful co-operatives and community benefit societies. It is a not-for-profit organisation, funded by the charity the Building Change Trust – aiming to create new co-operative and community owned businesses to provide jobs, services and prosperity.

Its “Community Shares, Ready!” project is commissioned by the Building Change Trust.

Co-operative Alternatives are running two free Masterclasses in Derry~Londonderry on Thursday 28th August and 4th September. The first masterclass is on the unique advantages of Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies – and hosted by North West Social Enterprise Hub at The Diamond. The second masterclass is on Community Shares and Crowdfunding, hosted by the Inner City Trust at the Craft Village Cottage. Both classes are led by Jo Bird, a specialist practitioner with over 20 years experience in developing co-operatives.

The events are open to all. They will be most relevant to anyone interested in community owned enterprise, community shares and crowd funding. Business advisors and professionals who provide legal, financial and business support to organisations in the Third Sector are also welcome. Pre-booking is essential via and

Co-operatives and community owned businesses have a long history in Derry~Londonderry. We believe they can also have a very successful future.