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Community co-operatives in Scotland

Meet the local groups using a co-operative business model to enhance their communities and provide vital services.

2 Jun 2020 | 5 minute read time

From reviving local industry to preserving community hubs and services, residents across Scotland are setting up co-operatives to benefit their local areas in a variety of ways.

Community co-operatives are formed when community members work together to provide a service or develop an economic opportunity. With help from Co-operative Development Scotland and our partners, communities who choose this business model are working together to find ways to achieve sustainability and growth in their local area.

Meet a few of the co-operatives in Scotland that Co-operative Development Scotland has helped and find out more about the benefits of collaborating as a community.

Strontian Primary School: a forward-looking education space

When a local service is at stake and residents are running out of options, a community co-operative can provide an alternative solution. This was the case in the Highland village of Strontian in 2016, after the Highland Council determined the local primary school was no longer suitable in terms of educational facilities and building condition.

The council proposed several potential options to address the issues, but these were not supported by parents. Unable to reach an agreement with the local authority, the community joined forces with the Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) to suggest an alternative solution.

A community co-operative was formed to finance and construct a replacement school on land purchased near the Ardnamurchan High School. More than £900,000 was raised for the project through a combination of grants, bank finance, local fundraising and a community share offer, as well as a payment from the council for tenant’s works.

The new Strontian Primary School opened in October 2018 and now serves around 30 pupils. The plan is to lease the building to the Highland Council for at least 10 years. After this period the students may be accommodated within the high school itself, which isn’t currently possible due to the terms of the building’s lease.

The new school was designed to be much more spacious and comfortable for students, with all the technology expected in a 21st-century learning environment. It's also built on a footprint suitable for housing units. This means that if a time comes when it is no longer required as a school, it could be converted into four affordable homes – addressing another key need in the area – or used for other community purposes.

With an ageing stock of rural schools across Scotland and limited council budgets, the co-operative approach to providing services has the potential to transform the future of many similar communities.

Read more about community co-operatives 

Strontian Primary School

GlenWyvis Distillery: a community-funded business venture

GlenWyvis Distillery, near the Highland town of Dingwall, is the world’s first 100% community-owned distillery. It’s an inspiring example of a co-operative that revived a local industry by getting the community involved in the venture.

Dingwall has a long history of whisky production. Several distilleries have existed nearby over the centuries, but the last stopped production in 1926. Nearly 90 years later, GlenWyvis founder John McKenzie saw an opportunity to celebrate this heritage while reintroducing traditional crafts and skills in the area.

GlenWyvis was set up as a community co-operative funded through an ambitious but highly successful community share offer. In the first 77 days alone, the distillery made national news after raising a record-breaking £2.6 million from 2200 investors. Ultimately, more than 3000 people invested in the distillery.

By 2017, the distillery buildings were complete. Whisky and gin production began in 2018, with the first product, GoodWill Gin, hitting the market by July. The gin is now available in hotels, bars and restaurants across the UK, as well as through specialty suppliers in Germany and France. It’s also stocked in some Morrisons and Co-op supermarkets in Scotland.

GlenWyvis is an eco-friendly operation, as well. It aims to respect and preserve its beautiful setting at the foot of Ben Wyvis by carrying out production in the most sustainable manner possible. The distillery is powered by a combination of wind, solar, hydro and biomass energy, demonstrating its commitment to both environmental and social responsibilities.

The Crunchy Carrot: a community hub and grocery shop

For more than 20 years, the Crunchy Carrot has been a fixture on Dunbar’s High Street. The popular establishment opened in 2000 as a one-stop shop for locally sourced fruit and veg, whole foods, imported ingredients, free-from products and more.

Their emphasis on social and environmental responsibility and affordable, quality foods has attracted a loyal following among local families and businesses. More than just a grocer, the Crunchy Carrot became a popular community hub and a leader on sustainability issues.

When the shop’s owners decided to step down, there was concern about the future of this important community resource. The owners were happy for the business to continue trading, so a group of locals formed a steering committee to explore their options. A public meeting and survey revealed strong support for running the business as a community enterprise.

The steering group set up a community co-operative, the Community Carrot Ltd, to take over the Crunchy Carrot (which the shop kept as its trading name). A generous grant from the Scottish Land Fund allowed the group to purchase the building, and a community share offer raised a further £62,000.

This was used to buy the business’ stock and assets, which are now owned by more than 500 shareholders. The remainder went toward refurbishing the premises and expanding the shop’s outreach and engagement efforts in the community.

The Crunchy Carrot began trading as a community-owned enterprise in November 2019 and is already exploring ways to benefit the local area. The shop has partnered with local growers to run community food programmes, for example, and plans to look at providing work experience, training and volunteering in future – a great example of how a community-owned business can add value on many levels.

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