Co-operative owned shop
In June 2021 we completed our 12th year of trading and recorded a modest net profit.
How the co-operative was formed
In May 2009. The Artichoke, Slaithwaite’s local greengrocers closed its doors for the last time as the owner chose to pursue other interests. With no one willing to take over the shop as a going concern, it meant that one employee Carol Wood was preparing to lose her job.
“Everyone was really sad, particularly the older people. There’s been a greengrocer on the site for as long as people can remember.”
Graham Mitchell and his wife, Helen Coxan, were watching the situation closely from the internet services business he runs from offices over the shop.
So far, so depressingly familiar. But there were some grounds for hope. Slaithwaite is a large village, with some 5,500 inhabitants, strong traditions and a reputation for independence. Many people continue to use the heart of the village for their day-to-day shopping and there was reason to believe that, if economic circumstances improved, it might thrive once again.
Villagers Banded together
Graham and Helen considered the options and talked to others in the village. A group started to meet with a range of different, but surprisingly complementary expertise – some had worked in food retailing (notably for Suma, the Halifax-based wholefoods co-op), others had made and sold food locally; several were active members of MASTT (Marsden and Slaithwaite Transition Towns) and Marsden and Slaithwaite’s Renaissance Town Team.
All believed that growing, making and selling food locally is crucial to the health (in every sense) of communities. There was general agreement that, given the recession, a community shop was the obvious, perhaps the only, way forward. The question was how to go about creating one.
The group of residents promoted the idea of setting up the greengrocers as a community-owned shop, and after receiving the backing of local people, we developed a business plan and created a co-operative that would allow the community to purchase shares in the business and have control.
Raising the money
The group was clear that a new start required a broad community base. A co-operative – a democratically-owned enterprise whose members have the same voting rights whether they own 10 or 1,000 worth of shares – seemed just the thing.
“A co-op is a social enterprise,” says Graham. “Its purpose is to benefit its members and the community and it keeps money in the community. It’s a virtuous circle. The money raised and spent protects and creates jobs and supports the rest of the local economy.”
So, Slaithwaite Cooperative Ltd was registered under the Industrial and Provident Act, and at a packed meeting (held on the day the “artichoke” shop finally closed) a “community share issue” was launched. Shares would be sold for £1, with a minimum purchase of £10. The response was almost overwhelming. Within a week, £12,000 had been raised, enough to buy the business, begin the refurbishment and start to restock the shop.
We opened our doors
The Green Valley Grocer opened its doors on Friday, July 10, at 3 pm 2009.
“It was touch and go, but we made it,” says Carol Wood, who had stayed on to become the new shop’s manager.
“We thought we would take £1,900 per week in July, but we took more than that in the first two-and-a-half days.”
By September, the shop was taking five times as much as it had when the old business closed. One job had been saved, and one full-time and four part-time jobs were created. These were all taken by people who live locally, including Helen Coxan, who has become the shop’s local food co-ordinator.
The key to the shop’s success is clearly the level of support in the community, and Camilla believes the co-op model and in particular the share issue is central to this. “The share issue turned fund-raising into a campaign, and our shareholders have become our loyal customers.”
We aim to be a financially viable, socially useful and environmentally responsible business:
- To operate a financially viable food business at the heart of a sustainable and viable village high street,
- To operate as a pioneering community-owned cooperative, to enable local people to have a real stake in the enterprise,
- To provide and enhance retail choice to local people in and around Slaithwaite,
- To be part of a ‘destination’ village, for locals and visitors,
- To preserve a distinctive and traditional offering that includes affordable, ethically sourced, healthy and local products,
- To provide rewarding employment for local people, encourage participation and empowerment, and pay good wages within the financial constraints of the business,
- To contribute to the development of a ‘new economic model’ which is sustainable, thus promoting local resilience,
- To operate in an environmentally-conscious way, minimising energy use in our operations, as well as helping our customers to minimise their carbon footprint.
The business Proposition
Quality: We seek to be distinctive in terms of the quality of the food we sell. We source good quality products which focus on flavour, freshness, and provenance, rather than the uniform, bland, ‘showroom’ appearance for which supermarket produce is often selected. We will not stock foods that are highly processed and full of artificial additives.
Fresh: As a purveyor of fruit, vegetables, fish, and dairy products we seek to ensure, through regular ordering, that our produce is always fresh and wholesome. Our product range offers a substantially lower level of packaging than that which is offered by larger competitors.
Local: Locally grown and produced foods form a substantial proportion of our offer and openness about food provenance is a guiding principle.
Customer Service: Friendly, helpful staff, who are knowledgeable, informative, and interested in the products we offer, are essential to our proposition. We would describe all of our staff as ‘foodies’ who have an interest in growing and/or cooking. We aim to maintain a modern relationship with our customers using technology and responding quickly to feedback and changes in customer needs.
Community Ownership: Our structure and ownership model roots the business very firmly both in the values and principles of the cooperative tradition and within the local community.