How and why has the community spirit evident in Stirchley and neighbouring Bournville developed?

stirchley baths 3

As the writer saw in the first hour over a hundred local people flocking into Stirchley’s restored Edwardian Baths, their new community hub, with more coming through the door as she left, she remembered one resident’s words in Stirchley online:

Stirchley is a unique community. It must be one of the only remaining Edwardian designed High Streets left in Birmingham still mostly populated by independent traders of all descriptions.

Around this high street are hundreds of affordable owner occupied households of all age groups and ethnicities.

Its residents generally display the old Brummie attributes of being amiable, tolerant and willing to work with each other.

It has parkland aplenty, great public transport routes and is as much alive at night as it is in the daytime.

change kitchenStirchley Baths is a Grade II listed building, built in 1910 and closed to the public since 1988. Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet approved plans to transform the building into a community hub in 2012. It has ‘re-emerged’ with a community hall, meeting rooms, cinema space and training rooms. Its café will be run by Change Kitchen, well-known in the city centre, an imaginative choice.

Stirchley groups who intend to use the hub include established leisure, karate, arts and crafts groups, heritage initiatives, film nights and the monthly Stirchley community market. Three enquiries have been received from couples hoping to have their wedding receptions there.

The question stands: how and why has the community spirit evident in Stirchley and neighbouring Bournville developed?

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More about Stirchley: (pictures of the exterior)


Time Banks summary

Assembled because of the 15th October, Public Timebanking event in Birmingham

The world’s first time bank is said to have been established in 1973 by a Japanese woman. The benefits that older time bank members derived included formation of new friendship networks to replace those lost by retirement and the chance to use old skills and learn new ones. Time banks can generate a new form of social capital that fosters traditional Japanese reciprocity and has ikigai or ‘sense of meaning in life’ as one of its main pillars. See Elizabeth Miller’s thesis, submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the Australian National University June 2008.

time banks boyle coverDavid Boyle, who helped to found the London Time Bank, wrote a 2001 briefing, published on the New Economics Foundation blog, setting out a practical prescription for community time banks, that can release human resources to tackle deep-rooted social problems and also provide practical and effective solutions for a range of public policy problems. Download here.

The time bank idea was further developed at the London School of Economics by Washington law professor Edgar Cahn in 1986, who describes the idea as working like a blood bank or babysitting club: “Help a neighbour and then, when you need it, a neighbour – most likely a different one – will help you. The system is based on equality: one hour of help means one time dollar, whether the task is grocery shopping or making out a tax return… Credits are kept in individual accounts in a ‘bank’ on a personal computer. Credits and debits are tallied regularly. Some banks provide monthly balance statements, recording the flow of good deeds.”

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Our database first records a reference to a 2001 letter to Ed Mayo, then director of the New Economics Foundation, enclosing a donation for the Time Bank work with a local reference:

“I rather like our South Birmingham LETS social fund, which enables elderly and/or frail people who are not LETS members to use the appropriate services – shopping, sitting, gardening etc. It costs nothing except members’ donations of Hearts to the fund. Where Time Banks will perhaps work better is in becoming better known – forming linkages with Health Centres and other organisations – because the gripe here is that the fund is not used enough”.

The Farmers Guardian (26.10.01) recorded that the Cumbria Rural Women’s Network was helping women to train or retrain, set up or expand their businesses. The network catered for 16-year-olds upwards with some 15 local networks bringing women together on a geographic or common interest such as a wool group. Voluntary co-ordinators and mentors – successful business women or rural women with professional training – advised and supported budding entrepreneurs. The commitment was repaid by the time bank – this means that their time is repaid by an equivalent amount of someone else’s work or training time.

In its 2002 Social Enterprise Strategy (now archived) the Department of Trade and Industry highlighted the remarkable upsurge in competitive social enterprises – credit unions, social firms, housing co-operatives, fair-trade and ecological enterprises, managed workspaces, farmers’ markets, recycling initiatives, employment services, community shops, arts ventures, social care co-operatives and time banks.

James Robertson’s Newsletter No. 8 – December 2005, brought news of a Municipal Time Bank: ”The Overstrand Municipality in Hermanus is running this project in partnership with SANE and the Embassy of Finland. It enables poor people in the municipality to reduce their debts or pay for services, and the municipality gains the value of the work they do. The benefits of this Community Exchange System (CES) are that people work for each other and their communities. This encourages people to identify and use their skills to meet local needs, builds the local economy and community, and compensates for cashlessness.


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Good taxpaying corporate citizens

fairtaxmark logoThe Fair Tax Mark is being adopted by UK business setting a new standard in responsible tax practice – from the smallest shop to the biggest multinational. It is the label for good taxpayers – companies and organisations that are proud to pay their fair share of tax.

The Fair Tax Mark is an assurance that a company is open and transparent about its tax affairs and pays the right amount of corporation tax at the right time in the right place. It has been awarded to several companies, including:

  • SSE, the UK’s broadest-based energy company;
  • Go Ahead Group, a FTSE250 UK company that operates train and bus services;
  • Unity Trust Bank, a specialist bank for social economy organisations and the wider civil society;
  • Lush Cosmetics, a multinational manufacturer and seller of handmade cosmetics;
  • Midcounties, the largest independent co-operative society in the UK, operating a range of businesses in Food, Travel, Pharmacy, Funeral, Childcare, Energy, Post Offices and Flexible Benefits;
  • Urban IT Support, a small firm providing easy-to-understand computer, network and mobile device support to homes and businesses;
  • and The Phone Co-op, the only telecoms provider in the UK that is owned and run by its customers.

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Syriza MPs help to promote the social economy by donating 10-20% of their wage

anca voinea co-opIn a Co-operative News article, Anca Voinea notes that  Syriza has highlighted the importance of reviving the co-op movement, seeing it as a distinct economic model that would be part of their movement for a broader social and solidarity economy.

Syriza had shown interest in the movement over the last two years and is preparing for new legislation to support co-operative principles, promote co-operative education, transfer of companies to the workers and establish co-operatives of similar standards to those in Latin America and France.



When incoming prime minister Alexis Tsipras (above) presented his agenda to parliament, he made a commitment to growing the social economy, including co-ops. Syriza has now launched a public consultation to gather opinions about the promotion of the social economy.

VioMe in Thessaloniki went bankrupt and the workers, who had not been paid for over a year, occupied the building to prevent the owner from taking away the machinery and products in stock. The factory is now in public administration and the workers are fighting a legal battle for ownership of the enterprise. They are also calling for a change in the legal framework to allow workers to take over enterprises. Mr Tsipras promised to support this effort with legal reforms. He has also spoken about the importance of co-operative banks as a vehicle for development.

Reading about this venture reminded the writer about an Argentinian workers’ initiative recorded here.

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An online platform, Solidarity4all, first mooted by the late Tony Benn, showcases different examples of informal co-operation, from social pharmacies to grocery stores or free lessons, including newly formed co-ops. Syriza has helped the Solidarity4All initiative, with each MP donating 10-20% of their wage to promote the social economy. People have taken matters into their own hands through grassroots activism and local collective action. The many and varied social solidarity initiatives include social pharmacies, social medical clinics, social kitchens, social groceries, Okmarkets without middlemen, a social collective of mental health professionals, social solidarity drop in centres, time banks (sharing skills and time), olive oil producers sharing olive oil, the ‘potato movement’ where farmers trade direct with consumers cutting out the supermarkets. Read more about Solidarity4All here.

Co-operatives: raising and developing the weakest part of our local communities and civil society?

The roots of the co-operative movement in Italy go back to 19th century workers’ associations, with credit services, agricultural and building co-ops forming an important part of the overall economy. There are more than 20, 000 cooperatives, including housing and banking movements, with over 3 million members.

In 2011 Jeffrey Hollander asserted that the success of worker cooperative models in Italy and Spain presents US & UK with a compelling model for building a new, sustainable economy: 

italian co-ops text pics

An alternative to the “throw-away culture created by the powers that control the economic and financial policies of the globalized world”

Reuters reports that Pope Francis, speaking to members of the Confederation of Italian Co-operatives, condemned economic systems that “suffocate hope” and a globalised culture that treated its employees as disposable. New models and methods are needed that offer an alternative to the “throw-away culture created by the powers that control the economic and financial policies of the globalized world.”

He adds:

“Co-operatives should continue to be the motor that raises and develops the weakest part of our local communities and civil society”

The Pope said that the establishment of more co-operatives could help to solve crises of unemployment among young people and offer women jobs with a work-life balance that enabled them to care for their families.

Finally he called for money to be ‘at the service of life, managed in the right way by real co-operatives where capital does not command men but men command capital.

Community energy: co-operative, citizen-centred, decentralised


Although a couple of weeks ago the government agreed to ban all fracking in protected areas, they are now reported as saying this may ‘unduly constrain the industry’ and fracking will be allowed to take place under National Parks and other protected areas if the wells start outside their boundaries. The passing of the government’s bill was welcomed by Ken Cronin, the chief executive of trade body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas. MP Caroline Lucas, on the other hand, said:What a mockery this is making of legitimate public concerns on fracking, and indeed of the democratic process.”

On 27th January, the government’s Community Energy Strategy report praised the way “communities are coming together to take more control of the energy they use”.

balcombe residents

There are a growing number of community energy organisations in the UK, giving communities more control over production and provision and opportunities to alleviate fuel poverty and increase local employment.

Co-operatives UK, Community Energy England, The Co-operative Energy, Social Enterprise UK, 10:10 and Regen SW have united to call for fair treatment for energy co-ops: a sensible approach to share capital and an optional asset lock for co-ops. They have produced a briefing setting out the main actions required to get community energy back on track. Click here to read the briefing in full.

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REPOWERBalcombe is the latest initiative: a pro-community and pro-renewables co-operative social enterprise run for the good of the local community. Recognising that Cuadrilla’s drilling back in 2013 divided opinion in the community, they aspire to move on and unite around something positive – clean energy.

In 2015 they aim to raise funds for around 300kw of solar PV, the equivalent of 10% of Balcombe’s current electricity usage – or enough to power 60 of the village’s 760 homes. REPOWERBalcombe will sell investment in the form of shares to the community.

grange farm balcombe solar69 panels were installed on Grange Farm at the end of January

Their first site to sign up was the third-generation family-run Grange Farm on Crawley Down, who will host 18kW of solar panels on their cowshed in exchange for 33% discounted energy for the next 25 years. Local co-op members provided £27,300 for these panels. They are now raising funds to install solar panels on the rooftops of three schools.

As the briefing says:

“The UK needs to move from an economy based on fossil fuels, towards one based on renewable energy; from a market dominated by a handful of suppliers, to one where thousands of communities meet their energy needs locally.

“We need an approach to ownership and innovation that is more co-operative, citizen-centred and decentralised. One that enables people to work together to generate, distribute and supply their own sustainable energy. One that taps the emergence of new crowdfunding mechanisms that have the ability to leverage large sums of money into clean energy investment, and at the same time bolster energy-democracy and the social economy.”

Models for doing this already exist across Europe, where co-operatives and social enterprises deliver clean, low-carbon energy, offer local employment opportunities, community development funds and fuel poverty alleviation.

Useful links:

Continuing the good work on mainstreaming stronger & more inclusive local economies

I’m pleased to report that Localise WM has secured funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust for 2013-14 to progress our work on Mainstreaming Community Economic Development.

BCtrust logoYou may be aware of our previous Mainstreaming CED project, which amassed a remarkable body of evidence around the social and economic benefits of localised economies (see our literature review or its summary) and then outlined how a local and community orientated approach can be integrated into conventional economic development to maximise these benefits.

This has given us a really useful body of material we can use to support progressive economic development, so we’re pleased to be able to develop it further, working with others to generate practical outcomes and building on our 2012-13 research findings:

  • Engaging and discussing the opportunities of Mainstreaming Community Economic Development with project managers, policy makers and politicians
  • Developing an informal learning network of  practitioner to provide the opportunity for shared learning and wider implementation
  • Working with partners to mainstream community economic development by testing its feasibility and ease of implementation in the West Midlands
  • Monitoring and evaluating the impact of the mainstreaming community economic development approach and the implications for future learning and implementation

Conrad Parke portraitIn particular we are planning to work with a hospital regeneration and supply chain project, a group of SMEs and other organisations aiming to establish a SME co-operative to facilitate joint winning of contracts;  and one or two local authority strategies on specific issues. LWM colleagues for this project are excellent new additions Conrad Parke and Sarah Longlands, and longer-standing LWM members Jon Morris and myself.Sarah Longlands pic

Local authority cuts of course make this an incredibly challenging time for public services including economic development – and likewise for communities. But it also necessitates a rethink about how we deliver ‘more with less’ and less unequally. Some public bodies are exploring these ideas, and we hope our MCED work will help that trend to become more widespread.

We are also happy to talk to anyone about potential opportunities to progress this strand of work elsewhere.

The MCED project webpage is here, with links to the previous research page, reports, briefings and related work, and we’ll be posting update blogs here as the year progresses.

Karen Leach

Should we learn from countries whose companies own our energy providers?

Celia Richardson, director of the Social Economy Alliance, is the lead signatory of a letter in the Financial Times.

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The Alliance was launched by Social Enterprise UK, a coalition of leading social economy organisations, in order to influence the way political parties formulate social and economic policies before the next General Election and increase the impact of the social economy.

ResPublica 9.13 report coverWelcoming Ed Miliband’s focus on energy, she referred to the growing community energy industry in this country where neighbours are collaborating, creating jobs and ‘growing their social capital’.

The latest publication from ResPublica suggests that community energy could grow to eighty-nine times its current size if existing barriers were lowered. The letter continues:

‘Other countries, whose companies own our energy providers, are developing their own community energy and renewables at a fast pace, while the UK suffers – we could learn from their domestic policy.


‘Energy is where Britain can tackle serious economic problems at the same time as tackling social problems, as well as our large and growing democratic deficit’.


Social enterprises are businesses that trade in order to address social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment.  They sell goods and services in the open market, but reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community.

And so when they profit, society profits.