Training and developing new co-operatives that bring social investors together with community activists to create jobs

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£0 raised of
£30,000 target

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About this Project

Unemployment is a blight on towns across the UK – and in areas where it may appear to be less of a problem, such as the South West where we work, there is often a bigger problem of underemployment: deskilling, low wages, and exploitation.

We believe that there is an alternative – communities can develop sustainable trading businesses, led by community activists, whose focus is to create decent jobs. By running these businesses as a multi-stakeholder co-operative, the workers can play an active part in its management. That boosts skills, self esteem and leads to more community enterprise.

The third piece of the jigsaw is social investment – and Somerset Co-op Services is a pioneer in the field of bringing investment to co-operatives. We have raised over £400,000 for co-ops and mutuals in recent years – now we want to apply everything we have learnt to the difficult task of creating jobs for those who are most excluded from the labour force.

It isn't going to be easy – and that's why we can't fund the work in the normal way. We need your help to bring about real innovation and create businesses that will inspire others to replicate them across the UK (we believe imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we won't stop anyone copying our ideas – in fact, we'll help).

Get Involved

Here are some great ways to get involved with the project and help out:
If you have...
2 minutes –
You can sign up for our newsletter – or for our 'Co-op Angels' mailing list which is ideal for social investors wanting to invest as little as £250 a time in co-operative businesses.
5 minutes –
Are you a member of a co-operative in the South West, or a mutual business such as a credit union, LETS scheme or Community Land Trust? Encourage them to become a member of SCS. When we get good direction from our members, we can provide better services to the sector.
15 minutes –
Could you promote co-operative enterprise in your community? We can provide literature and follow up.
30 minutes –
Perhaps you could write a letter to your local newspaper celebrating local co-operative successes and encouraging readers to back the social economy. We'd be happy to provide topical information relevant to your area.
A few hours –
Maybe you have a vision for a co-op in your community – perhaps a employment co-op as described here, or something different like a food co-op, energy co-op or housing co-op. We'd love to help get it off the ground.
A regular time commitment –
From early next year, we hope to have new offices in Taunton. We'd be very keen to hear from potential regular volunteers!

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Geographical coverage
Within a city/shire
What is the social/environmental problem/issue that this project will address?
We want to tackle the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment – in particular helping those most disadvantaged in the labour market. There is a desperate need for work to re-tool our economy for a low carbon future, but institutions and businesses are failing to make the bold investments needed, and too many startups are poorly supported one-man bands. The solutions need to come from the grassroots to ensure that scarce resources are used effectively.
Can you give us some statistics on this problem?
Somerset has traditionally had lower unemployment than elsewhere in the UK, but as Somerset County Council report, “In Somerset, the unemployment rate has risen sharply since December 2008, at a much faster pace than in the UK as whole. In March 2011 unemployment in Somerset stood at 6.8%, compared to 7.7% in the UK. The proportion of vacancies in management, professional roles and skilled trades decreased. Somerset historically has a lower skilled economy compared to the UK and the downturn appears to have further affected this balance.”
What is your solution?
We will bring together workers, community activists and social investors in social enterprises that can create jobs in the growing green economy. We have worked with the FSA to develop new Multistakeholder co-operative rules that allow social and community investors to buy shares in co-operative ventures that create jobs in a community. Not only are people working for a sustainable future, but they are gaining high level skills in managing and planning businesses. To achieve this, we need to publicise best practice, run pilots, and train activists.
How will you deliver this?
A multistakeholder co-operative, unlike other businesses, raises small sums of investment from many people in the community – provided it has a strong business case and is 'investment ready'. Using the Co-operative Enterprise Hub and other support networks, a team of community activists can begin to create jobs first on a small scale, then rapidly growing as the business proves its worth. Our role is to link up the legal, financial, and human resources in community based co-operatives – first in Somerset and the South West, then further afield. The success of one project allows us to reinvest in more.

About Us

Vision and Mission
Somerset Co-operative Services (SCS) mission is to promote the application of international co-operative principles, to help people establish new social enterprises and to enable social enterprises to work together to be financially, environmentally and socially sustainable. We aim to provide high quality services to our user members and secure, fairly rewarded work to our worker members. We offer specialist support to co-operatives, particularly those bringing different groups together and those that make measurable impacts on the reduction of carbon emissions.
Our Track Record
For new social enterprises such as Go! Co-operative, the Ecological Land Co-operative, 10 Radio CIC and Lightweight Community Transport we provide consultancy, project management and executive services to steer their businesses through complex launches. We've helped mutual businesses raise over £0.5M from social investors.

We have developed new model rules, approved by the FSA, for co-operative societies seeking to bring together different stakeholder groups, raise investment though community share issues, and work towards defined social missions. These multistakeholder rules have since been adopted by Somerset Co-operative Land Trust, Hazelhurst CSA, The Source TV Limited, Go! Co-operative and the Ecological Land Co-operative.

Through the Co-operative Group's 'Co-operative Enterprise Hub' we have delivered advice and support to an number of co-ops in the South West; this led to the formation of South West Co-operative Support, of which we were founders.

We were commissioned by Co-operatives UK to write their guide to social enterprise finance, 'Simply Finance' and we are part of a consortium that will train new co-operative business advisors.
Project Contact Details
Alex Lawrie
Organisation Details
Somerset Co-operative Services CIC
The Hot House Wellington Road
Taunton, Exeter


Community Interest Company #06018662

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Support us and receive a 50% discount on our training courses in 2012-14!
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Go Getter
Straight away your support will be rewarded with a half price registration of any 'Somerset Rules' co-operative!
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Heavy Hitter
If you choose to invest in a co-operative employment project, your first 500 shares can be bought at half price.
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Change the world by investing in a co-operative employment project and your first 1000 shares (up to 2% of the total offer) can be bought at 25% of cost price!
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Training and campaigning
We will produce and distribute literature describing the track record and benefits of the new 'Somerset Rules', with case studies and supporting literature. We'll focus on their use in employment creation and bring them to the attention of local councils, community groups and activists around Somerset and the SW. This will also cover bursaries for places on our training courses.
Development and community action
We will organise seminars and events in the locations worst hit by unemployment and underemployment. Attenders will be encouraged to think about the needs of their community and the roles that co-operative businesses could play.
Feasibility and support
We will carry out full feasibility studies for the most promising ideas, and research the potential for businesses based on eco-technologies. Electric motoring, anaerobic digesters and straw bale building are particular areas of interest, but we will be led by the communities we're serving. At the same time, we'll work closely with steering groups to help them work towards being founder Directors.
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