What is the point of Co-op Brum and why was it founded?

I wrote this to help collect my thoughts about the project and act as starting point to @Cecile 's proposal 7.

Cooperation Birmingham was created in the very first days of the Covid 19 Pandemic. It’s members had recently been involved in setting up and supporting the Warehouse Cafe Co-operative in Digbeth and wanted to use the resources of the shut cafe to help people isolate safely. When these provisions were not put in place by the government, we set up Coop Brum providing solidarity directly through mutual aid. The initial goal was to provide hot meals through the Solidarity Kitchen, but, having learned from Cooperation Jackson from Mississippi who visited Birmingham in 2020, the project was intended to be a basis for a solidarity economy in the city, the next step after creating the Warehouse. Over the next year the project delivered 16,000 hot meals and trained and developed over 200 participants who helped with cooking, distributing, handling phone calls and onboarding, creating newsletters and making masks. At the first AGM in March 2021 the project voted to become a membership organisation and launch two new projects a solidarity cafe and a media co-operative, which would continue the goal of creating co-operative spaces and infrastructure in a democratic way, bringing mutual benefits to members who participate in the project and raising the awareness and perspective of cooperation in the city.

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Background to Solidarity Cafe founding:

Cooperation Birmingham was founded in March 2020, as an organisation to build co-operation and mutual aid in the city. The Warehouse Cafe decided to shut early to encourage people to lockdown and provide a space for the Solidarity Kitchen, the main project of Co-op Brum. The kitchen has been active for most of the year and there have been other temporary projects including Coop Cycle (couriers co-operative) and a mask making project.
All participants in the project went through an onboarding process where they were informed of Co-op Brum, how to engage democratically in the organisation and how to access the forum where decisions were discussed. Decisions were made through fortnightly meetings. Coop Brum is what is known as an ‘unincorporated co-operative’, which means it is not a legal entity.

In December the Solidarity Cafe was proposed and agreed by co-op brum, to be spearheaded by Cecile and Paul. Cecile and Paul, and also Seb registered a CIC (a legal entity) without informing Coop Brum beforehand. This was retrospectively agreed as possible route for grant funding, and that it would not be a decision making body.

I recognise everyone might not be down with the lingo, however there are people in Coop Brum (including myself!), with experience of democratic governance and setting up Co-ops, so I will briefly elaborate so that people have an understanding of what is going on.

A co-op allows for all members to democratically make decisions together in general meetings - it can be a legal entity, or not, and it can have sub groups which operate independently but are accountable to the general meeting. Solidarity Cafe was proposed, and still is according to decisions made in the AGM a subgroup of Coop Brum.

A CIC is not a co-operative, does not have a membership and is not a democratic legal form. It can have a charitable status which means it does not pay tax on earnings, making it eligible for grant funding. A Community Benefit Society (CBS) is a similar legal form which allows for a membership and democratic processes. These are less common and slightly more difficult to set up as finance capital / the tories promote the CIC model via funding and business support.

In March 21 we informed all participants by email and held our AGM and formalising the organisation into a membership dues paying one, as a way of funding the PAYF cafe - with the name Solidarity Cafe - and a media project. So far there has been no proposal to have a legal entity for Coop Brum, although this is a future possibility and a CBS would be a good model, registering a legal entity is costly and requires filing annual returns etc and is not a necessity.