Sometimes Saddleworth News dips into the Pennine communities near our area to do articles about things which might be of interest to Saddleworth people.
And so it was that I made the short drive on the A62 to Slaithwaite on Monday, to visit a community-owned co-operative which is becoming a real success story for the Colne Valley.
The Green Valley Grocer on Carr Lane opened its doors two years ago this month, with the aim of selling as much local produce as possible.
In his office above the shop, Chairman Graham Mitchell explained how and why the co-operative came into existence.
He said: “There’s been a greengrocer on this site for a long, long time. The guy that was running it before we took over was struggling a bit, he’d been trying to sell the business for a while without any real success. So we came up with the idea of a community-owned business to run it.”
He added: “None of us wanted to be a greengrocer, but we wanted there to be a greengrocer. We thought it was a really important pillar of the local retail economy. It’s one of those cornerstone businesses in a small place like this.”
After a public meeting, the venture quickly reached an initial target of £15,000 of investment from local people. A deal was agreed with the building’s landlord and the previous greengrocer, and the new shop began trading in July 2009.
Mr Mitchell explained: “We’re still very keen to have new members and investors join the co-operative. We had someone sign up the other day who bought a couple of hundred pounds worth of shares. We’re over £30,000 in capital raised to make the business work.”
Before its turnover started to decline, the previous greengrocer had been turning over around £3,000 to £4,000 in good weeks. Not only was the co-operative able to match that straight away, but in the two years since, that figure has risen to about £5,500.
Mr Mitchell said: “It’s fantastic to see that we have that support and that we’re doing the right things.”
As well as a wide range of fruit and veg, the shop sells items such as jam made in Marsden and Meltham, and bread from the Handmade Bakery, which recently moved out of the shop and into new premises elsewhere in Slaithwaite.
Mr Mitchell explained: “We’ve been very keen to promote the idea of local food and encouraging local people, not only to supply the shop with local produce where they can, but also just to grow their own fruit and veg.”
He added: “When a litre of petrol costs you £10, what impact is that going to have on food prices locally, when we can see that pretty much all of our food comes in on a truck? All these Pennine communities, the level of food that’s grown locally is really quite low.”
Mr Mitchell continued: “It doesn’t need to be that way. It didn’t used to be that way. Before the days of motorways and the global food system, people used to grow their own food locally. There used to be significant market gardening activity here, and that’s largely gone. That change has happened in the last fifty years.”
He went on: “What we’re trying to do is to encourage a bit of a rethink on that, and try to turn that picture round, and make this community a bit stronger and a bit more resilient. Because that day is going to come.”
Mr Mitchell hopes to use the success of the grocer as a way of getting the community involved in other areas, including the provision of renewable energy and green housing.
He commented: “There’s lots of things that we’re interested in doing. One of the outcomes of that initial process when we set up the co-operative, what that showed very clearly was that there was a lot of interest in community issues. We made it very clear when we went out to raise that money, that people shouldn’t look at it as a financial investment, they should look at it as an investment in the community.”
He added: “What that success has shown to people locally, is that they can come together and they can make real change happen, really quite quickly. You don’t need huge piles of money, you don’t need massive government programmes or anything like that to make things happen. There’s a really strong community spirit here, there always has been, and we’re looking to build on that.”
You can listen to the full interview with Graham Mitchell by clicking on the boxes below. It’s in two parts.
The Handmade Bakery has a website here.
A recent Saddleworth News article about the Fair Traders co-op in Holmfirth can be found here.