From shops… to co-ops

Working in the co-operative and community sector, as a values led business, it’s probably not that surprising to find that our team have similar backgrounds, and shared histories. We’ve discovered recently just how similar some of them are – are we, perhaps, really a nation of shopkeepers?

Operations and FCA Compliance Manager Alain Demontoux, and Investment Manager Ian Rothwell, both trace their co-operatives history to wholefoods, Alain starting at Essential Trading and Ian at Ouroboros, before setting up Hiziki, both in Nottingham.

At Essential, Alain started ‘at the coalface’ packing herbs and mixing up muesli, before moving up in the business to finance – he has fond memories of two old IBM computers in 1991 with green line spreadsheets managing the finances!

Ouroborous and Hiziki are no more but both focused on providing healthy wholefoods as cheaply as possible. A copy of Nottingham Voice, hosted online, contains mention of Ouroboros launching in 1977,

‘The policy of the collective is to sell good plain food as cheaply as possible by minimising profit and avoiding packaging and processing. They try to supply food which is not refined and is free of added chemicals but this cannot be guaranteed because sources of organic produce are limited. They stock a wide variety of foods including grains, beans, nuts and fruit, herbs and spices which they will increasing due course’

Like Alain, Ian started in the warehouse side of the business and while he was there became the Chair of Nottinghamshire Co-op Development Agency.

Our Business Development Manager Tim Coomer and Trustee James Alcock both have rural community development backgrounds, with a shared interest in rural and village shops.

Tim worked in his parent’s village convenience store businesses after leaving school, for ten years, before moving on to manage a support programme for Village and Community Shops across the South West, funded by the EU. He knows all about the early mornings and 363 days of the year working! As is the same for many people working in community shops, Tim did everything from sweeping the floors to managing staff.

James has a rural background, including his studies, and has been involved with the Plunkett Foundation since 2007. He established their core advisory service for rural community businesses and is passionate – truly so – about rural matters. He describes ‘an explosion’ of the Community Shops sector between 2006 and 2012, with the sector since stabilising and developing mutual support and peer networks.

As well as a broadly shared starting point, all four share a lifelong and current commitment to local communities having shops that are community owned, rooted in the communities, and that are responsive to the needs of those communities. Community owned pubs are rapidly joining community shops as highly visible examples of this kind of business and we’re looking forward to seeing many showcased in this weekend’s Community Business Weekend. Check the event map here to decide which community business you will visit.