“Do something outside yourself, something to repair tears in your community.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Connecting and owning the threads
I’m proud to be a member of the Cooperative Party and when I stand for re-election in May 2021 it will be as a Labour and Cooperative Councillor. I believe the cooperative movement is fundamental to how we build back better in practice.
I therefore welcomed the opportunity at the recent Cooperative Party conference to sing about our Chorlton coops and cooperative spirit. It got me thinking...
We are home in Chorlton to several coops and mutuals and an active Chorlton Coop Cluster group, including Unicorn Grocery Workers Coop, Stitched Up, Chorlton Community Land Trust, and several Coop Group owned stores and services. Chorlton Bike Deliveries, born in a time of Covid, is the newest coop on the block.
The Coop Party conference theme this year was ‘Owning our future’. Ownership of land and wealth in the UK has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. This has gone hand in hand with 10 years of austerity, increasing the fragility across the public sector and our communities.
If the social contract between the state and people is meant to a protective quilt, the pandemic has revealed just how threadbare and torn it is and how wide the gaps are: between ‘the haves’ and the ‘have not’; those with power and those without; Westminster politics and the people of ‘the North’!
Whilst Chorlton is one of the wealthier neighbourhoods in Manchester, all streets and homes are not equal.* Lockdown made us all the more appreciative of what we have, the comfort of decent homes with gardens, reliable wifi, local shops, services and green space and access to a car and/or cycle. It also brought local inequalities into sharp focus, as it did nationally.
Whether you saw it or not, poverty, hunger, isolation and eviction was never far away. The demand on Chorlton food banks and charities soared along with calls for debt and housing advice.
Whilst our economic circumstances may have differed widely, we’ve all been left longing for the warmth, comfort and joy of human interaction; a hug from grandkids, an impromptu cuppa, coffee, shared meal or drink, the chat at the school gates or banter with colleagues in the office. We do indeed ‘have more in common than that which divides us’ and that has shone through - we are social beings and our instinct to connect, to care and to cooperate with each other is deep rooted.
And therein lies our strength and our resilience. For all the many awful things Covid-19 has done, and all the fragility in society it has revealed, it has highlighted how powerful and anti-fragile this instinct is to cooperate, to be kind and to care for each other.
‘You can be what you can see’
This is what we heard when over 40 of us gathered on Zoom in September for Let’s Reimagine Our Chorlton. We watched a great video - Chorlton Remembers 2020. We exchanged stories from the lockdown. We heard from the many people and projects building cooperation in Chorlton, now with new life and urgency.
Cooperatives show that our unique capacity as human beings, to work together, even under tremendous stresses and even when our own survival is under threat, enables us to build more inclusive & equitable models of shared wealth, ownership, power and decision-making.
The point is this, Building Back Better doesn’t require a huge leap of the imagination. The things people pointed to on our call, are things they have already seen, heard, felt and experienced. Car-free streets, birdsong, community care, mutual aid, community-ownership.
Our local coops have shown us in Chorlton that we can give people decent jobs, we can deliver a good service and we can do all of that at the same time as giving back to the local community and being good guardians of the land. We can build community wealth, health and resilience. We can grow local power and participation.
We know, because local people are already doing it and they will share their learning and expertise readily.
Over the last six months we’ve witnessed this with the birth of a new multi-stakeholder cooperative, Chorlton Bike Deliveries, a sustainable green business sparked by collective kindness. And a shared dream of building a greener, cleaner, healthier and more equitable Chorlton, has translated into a successful lottery bid, new local jobs and investment into a Chorlton Climate Action Partnership. Each a stitch in time.
So let’s keep sewing (the threads back together) and sowing (seeds for the future). Let’s keep cultivating hope and propagating more equitable models of ownership and power. For people and planet.
For Let’s Reimagine Chorlton events
Chorlton Climate Action Partnership and Our Streets Chorlton
For info about local Chorlton Cooperatives
*Chorlton Coop Wellbeing index
GM Coop Commission