Co-operative Alternatives AGM

It seems a long time ago now that I made my way to the launch of the Northern Ireland branch of a Co-operative Business Hub in the Nerve Centre in Derry. It was November 2012 and I had gone along with the tentative idea of running a brewery along Co-operative lines, without much knowledge of what structure that would involve. There I met Tiziana O’Hara and Jo Bird of the Hub and their enthusiasm and the inspiring talks at the launch led me to forming a small group to look at starting a Co-operative brewery. At the time, there were very few Co-operative businesses or societies in Northern Ireland so we were entering new territory, particularly when it came to running a Community Share Offer. The examples we had to go on were all across the water.

Fast forward to the present and we are on the brink of installing our brewery and making it to market with a vibrant Co-ownership of 229 of us all eager to see Lacada do well. As for the Co-op Business Hub, they morphed into a new organization called Co-Operative Alternatives UK with an office in Belfast. They are still Tiziana and Jo and they continue to give brilliant and informed support to both emerging and existing co-ops. They had their first AGM on 25th June and they had invited a speaker from each of the four successful Community Share Offers that have run in Northern Ireland over the past 12 months.

First to speak was Matt Dick, the Head Brewer of Boundary. He explained the provenance of the idea of Boundary and talked about the success of their Share Offer. The AGM was actually in Boundary’s brewery on the Newtownards Road in Belfast so that was great as far I was concerned. I had a good look around and a great chat with Matt and we’re going to help each other out with a few things in the near future. It’s really cool to have another co-operative brewery and that is something I touched upon in my little talk to the audience, namely how the success of Boundary’s Community Share Offer was good for us. Of course, I mentioned the other major factors as well – more people joining with expertise in key areas; more Directors again with key expertise; a marketing committee to widen the reach of the Share Offer; more money coming in; the fantastic website; more co-owners joining thus building a momentum.

The other speakers were Karen Arbuckle from Northern Ireland Community Energy. They aim to provide solar roof panel installations to community buildings. Their Share Offer finished on 19th June and they raised £150k. Next was James Orr of Down to Earth.  They will bury you in a cardboard box and plant a tree on top of you - only if you want that, of course. James made some very interesting points about the subject, not least the experience of woodland burial sites showing that they very quickly went from being taken up by pagans and 'alternative' types to being accepted and used by the ‘mainstream’. It was easy to see why from photos of existing sites. What’s not to like about a woodland with its trees and flowers?

So, overall it was a smashing day of Co-operative people coming together. Folks, we are amongst the first people to begin Co-operatives in this part of the world. In the last 12 months there have been four successful Community Share Offers raising a total of over £350k and as we go from strength to strength it will be a great source of pride to us all to say, and show, to others that co-operation works!

Laurie Davies (Director)