Chorlton Community Co-Operative

There are great things happening in Chorlton as people come together.

This interview was conducted by Sam Moon, with editing support from Sam Gregory.

On the basis of wanting a kinder, greener and better place to live, Chorlton Community Collective have been evolving a neighbourhood initiative to enable connections to flourish and bring community together. Rather than living in individual bubbles, separate to each other, what might it be like living in one big bubble instead?

Before they were due to turn a busy main road in Chorlton into a street party for 3,000 residents, I spoke to Nick Dixon community activist and Collective member who shared his reflections on the rollercoaster of community, the importance of peoples' voices, and his dreams of a future Chorlton.

Nick Dixon in the Trishaw they use to give people less mobile the wind in their hair again!

Hi Nick, so tell me, what is giving you a spring in your step?

I always get a tonic whenever I walk through my neighbourhood, and I have lots of conversations with people. They enrich my ideas and I enrich their ideas – we have conversations which are uplifting. When I'm in the company of other residents of our neighbourhood, people recognise you and you recognise them and you feel you're part of a place you want to be. That puts a spring in my step. I don't feel anonymous, even though 20,000 people live here. I know I can go out and I will always see people I know.

Chorlton feels like a home to me. I live on a road of 40 houses, and I know everybody in every house because of what we've done. You feel like you belong to something – you're not hiding behind net curtains. We put events on called Great Get Togethers, and when you’re building up to it you think nobody’s going to come. But when you do it everybody’s smiling and joyous and the kids are enjoying it, then that puts a spring in my step. It makes it worthwhile and you feel you are making a difference. It's about being around people and making good stuff happen.

Chorlton Community Co-operative: “It Feels Like We've Got Momentum Now”

What's really insightful is that through the conversations that you're able to have and the events that you're putting on, you’re deepening the relationships between people. What are you most hopeful for in community life?

We’ve got a neighbourhood of disparate places, different centres to it. There's nowhere for people to come together. I'm most hopeful that we can create a physical space where we can come together and where stuff will start to happen. We're making great strides towards having that heart of the community – somewhere that all people feel welcome to come to, and where ideas can happen and people can be inspired.

Without that physical location we’re struggling. It might be in a church hall somewhere or it might be in a cafe over there but it’s cut off, it's disparate. What we want is somewhere that’s like the centre of a spider’s web I suppose in our neighbourhood. I'm most hopeful that we're going to get that because we are increasingly powerful in our voice to local councillors and to local developers. So I'm most hopeful that we will get that physical space, and out of that physical space with the cooperative structure we're creating, it’ll be inclusive of all kinds of initiatives and ideas.

It feels there's a movement of people emerging that is making those possibilities you mention really visible. How is that making you feel?

It's a rollercoaster isn't it. Sometimes it makes me feel really good and excited and positive – I've had a great conversation this morning. I believe that the council have got behind what we want to do to create this whole pedestrianised area in the heart of our community, with space for community to happen. It feels like we've got momentum now. So this morning I'm at the top of the rollercoaster. Other days I feel more like, ‘How are we ever going to get there when people don't have the time or the inclination?’

I think community is a messy process, with ups and downs. It isn’t always linear, and I think you’ve described that really well. What are the possibilities that you're seeing?

There's endless possibilities. We’re running a website which says what's on in Chorlton and I can see it performing a really useful function for wider groups of people and networks. I can see it taking off, as a helpful tool for people to connect. So many people say they don't know what's happening in Chorlton.

A street scene from the Chorlton Great Get Together children playing with lego instead of breathing in traffic fumes

I think it will give people knowledge and allow people to come together more easily around demanding what it is that we want to improve our community. We want cleaner air, we want more equal access to the resources that we've got. There is great inequality in Chorlton, and there are people who don't have a voice and groups of people who are discriminated against. We want to challenge those issues in our cooperative.

I see the steps we're taking now to address that. There's a lot of cynicism we have to overcome. But it does feel a little bit different to me this time – we've got some good foundations that we've not had before. We’ve had ideas before, but this is actually rooted in something which is tangible – you can get hold of it. So I'm hoping it will resonate with people, starting with our big event on Sunday. If we get good weather we're gonna have 2,000 or 3,000 people. We’re closing the biggest main road in Chorlton, buses are being rerouted, and the traffic's being stopped all day. Kids will be chalking on the road, and there'll be bicycles going up and down, and there’ll be circus and choir singing. It’ll open people up to the possibility that don't have to have our lives governed by diesel fumes spilling out of cars. It will be a physical manifestation of the inspiration we're talking about.

That sounds incredible, Nick. What I'm picking up is there's a lot of thought to the structures that you're putting in place to make those things happen. What is the best thing that can happen?

If I was to have a magic wand, I think people who live in this neighbourhood need to have a voice, and they need to have a way of having their voice heard. There needs to be more connections between people, we need to look after all parts of our community – not just those with the money and the voice and the time, but those who struggle to be heard.

We need to have fun, and we need to look after each other. We need to create the heart of our community which is kind of missing. So I'd love to see every street have a community connector – a resident who's willing to organise a WhatsApp group and actually go knock on doors for those who aren’t on the internet. I'd like to go back to what we had during Covid when we had 80 or 90 community connectors.

It's about how we can come together and improve our community. Many of us want low traffic neighbourhoods and so on – more cycling, more clean air. We’re not a minority, we want that to happen, but there's no vehicle for it to happen – excuse the pun. So it's about creating that network of connectors who can share information and get ideas. It might be on individual streets or it might be across Chorlton, like it is on Sunday.

Lots of ideas from Chorlton residents to improve the neighbourhood

What do you think the courage you need is to take it in that direction?

If we're in the vanguard of something, it's quite scary really to put your head up. When we turn up on Sunday, and we start putting a gazebo in the middle of the road and it's pouring down with rain, there’ll be people sitting in the pub saying ‘Look at those!’ You feel conspicuous and you feel exposed sometimes. So at certain times you do need on a personal level to be brave.

Whenever I feel anxious about what we're doing I only need to speak to the rest of the movement and all of a sudden you're part of something bigger and we draw strength from each other. Fortunately there's enough of us who are doing it that you're not on your own. It'd be very easy to feel on your own sometimes. But as I say you come together with those movers and shakers and there's some really inspiring people. You need to be inspired and encouraged by the people around you. That's what gives me courage – talking to those people.

With what you're saying in mind, what would you like, want or need from the community to make your next steps as wonderfully successful as they possibly could be?

So I suppose what we need is for what we're creating to resonate with those people, so they put time into it. They need to come to the table with us, otherwise we’ll wither on the vine. We’ve got this relatively small initiative of Chorlton Community Co-operative – we need others to come join it and see why it's worth putting time into. If they don't, Sam, then no doubt our time will have come and gone. But maybe because of the routes we’ve put down this one is going to grow and flourish. We’re trying really hard just to create a structure under which stuff can happen – we're not going to direct what it is.

There's something that's being created here that's bigger than me.

We want to make it easier for stuff to happen, in terms of the bureaucracy of setting up your own group and applying for funds – we've taken that away so that people can focus on action and doing stuff, and then it becomes part of this rich tapestry. This isn't a preā€prepared plan over the next five years – we're just trying to open a door into a room and we don't know what's in the room, but come through the door with us.

We’ve got to find a language to appeal to all those different elements of the community. And I think one of the ways of doing that is people having fun, and the social side of it, which is what Sunday’s about. It's fun, we all get to meet different people and have lots of different conversations – it’s not just another minuted meeting.

What I'm really hearing in the story is the spaces being created for connection, and the feelings that go with that. What, if any, meaning was made for you through the course of our conversation?

It's something we don't do enough – stepping back and reflecting on different levels of what's happening, so we can see the steps we're taking. But you don't actually think about how it’s affecting you emotionally. We talk about a rollercoaster – when I'm at the bottom I'm thinking, ‘Is there any point to this?’

I'm seeing a bigger picture, I suppose, through talking with you. This is part of a movement of something bigger, and my ups and downs in it are irrelevant in a way. There's something that's being created here that's bigger than me. It’s not robust enough yet, because we haven't created that spider's web. It's not strong enough yet – it's still very early days. But I think the meaning of it all is clearer to me in terms of where we need to get to, and my part in that.

I'd love to think that what we're doing here is applicable in other situations, in other parts of Manchester. But this is so embryonic, so organic – everywhere has to respond to its unique circumstances. But maybe there's something that'll come out of your work, and the Neighbourhood Democracy Movement’s work, which will say ‘this stuff is happening in lots of different places, draw strength from that’. So it's not just me drawing strength from my fellow activists in Chorlton, but actually we're part of a movement, whether that's across Manchester or Greater Manchester or across the UK. You start to connect yourself to something bigger, and I think that's useful for me to reflect on.

So my last question, who do you know who is working on something you admire? Whose story deserves to be shared?

3 and a bit years ago 5 of us set up CBD, a cooperative Chorlton Bike Deliveries and it's grown. We’re employing staff now, and we're working on a community and a commercial basis. The commercial stuff helps fund the ‘food to foodbanks’ work. I'm very proud of my small part in that, but within Chorlton Bike Deliveries there’s an absolutely brilliant initiative. It’s about taking in bikes that people don't want anymore and fixing them and giving them to refugees and asylum seekers. I think it's 30 or 40 bikes a month. Taking these unwanted bikes and giving them to people who have very little means to get around, whether it’s a family or for children or just an adult – I think it's an absolutely brilliant initiative.

Find out more about Chorlton Community Co-Operative at:

Story | 08.12.23

community, Local Area Coordination, Neighbourhood Care, Neighbourhood Democracy, England, Story

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