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Make your lockdown a time to plan better communities, say co-op team

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A Somerset co-operative development agency has asked people unable to work due to the Covid-19 restrictions to make use of time at home to plan a new generation of co-operative social enterprises to ensure that our communities come out of the pandemic more resilient, more inclusive and more sustainable than before. Co-operatives are businesses that are democratically run for the benefit of their community.

“While our frontline health services and other key workers are battling to keep us safe, many will feel that they are unable to make a difference while being stuck at home. We want to assure them that they absolutely can”, said Alex Lawrie, the lead development worker at Somerset Co-operative Services CIC.

“When we are finally able to resume our normal lives, whether it is in weeks or months, our society will have been changed by this experience. We’ll have learned some difficult lessons about preparedness and solidarity; and we’ll look on other risks like climate change, biodiversity loss and food security with new alertness to the dangers. Our high streets and creative industries will have been decimated, and there will be an urgent need to believe that we can not only recover, but make our lives and our neighbourhoods better than before. That’s why, if you have some time alone at home, you might want to start planning and organising new social enterprises.”

Somerset Co-operative Services (SCS) has for some time been using methods such as video conferencing, collaborative documents, email lists and online platforms to help people organise together across the considerable distances in this large rural county. Their team of development workers are now able to work from home and support communications between people who can’t meet in person to address the problems facing their communities – everything from renewable energy supplies to affordable housing.

SCS is itself an alliance of diverse enterprises including credit unions, worker co-operatives and community shops. The only thing they all have in common is they are run democratically by the people who most rely upon their services – not in order to make profits, but for the benefit of the whole community. Alex Lawrie believes there is the opportunity for many more such co-ops to emerge from our present social isolation –
bringing people together around a common vision even while we have to be physically separated.

“Some people will have ideas for a business that they’ve never had the chance to explore, but you don’t have to have some kind of unique brainwave: some of the best community businesses have come from simply learning what other communities have achieved, and repeating it locally. Why shouldn’t every town have a community run music venue, a housing co-operative, a wind turbine or a community supported agriculture scheme? Let’s use modern communications to create a better world for everyone while we’ve got the chance.”

Contact: Alex Lawrie alex@somerset.coop 07963 917472.
More information: Co-operatives UK (www.uk.coop); Power to Change (www.powertochange.org.uk/)

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