In the beginning …
When we opened Bread + Roses in August 2018, we were far reaching in our ambitions and about to set a massive ball rolling. We got around £60,000 from social investment loans, secured a three year lease of a stunning grade-two listed building on a popular high street in Bradford, and got to work. However, we soon hit a problem. To keep up there was no slowing down, and even with the enormous effort of a great number of dedicated staff and volunteers, we simply didn’t have the cash, time, experience or forward planning to properly manage what we had started. We were all learning on the job, and without any cash reserves it was a constant challenge to stay afloat. Simultaneously, we were establishing new processes for our business, each day setting a new precedent, building and managing new teams and new projects, and keeping up with our new found popularity as a hub for the community. We got by. We did well just to be there. And above all else, we proved it could be done.
Bread + Roses soon became a popular community space that brought people together to meet, work, plan projects, and find opportunities. We helped build stronger and happier communities. And we offered our beleaguered city some hope for the future by imagining something new for our high street. Since 2018 we’ve seen thousands of attendees and hosted a wide range of community events, including open mic events organised by Bradford Refugee Forum; free youth activity workshop events by Bradford Literature Festival; awareness raising events by the likes of the Bradford Homeless Partnership and the Bradford Equity Partnership; drop-in information events by organisations such as Power to Change, Volunteering Bradford, and Bradford Producing Hub (Arts Council funded). Other regular users of our meeting spaces include Bradford Council, NHS Bradford, Community Action Bradford, City of Sanctuary, Campaign Bootcamp Everyday Activism, NHS Early Intervention in Psychosis group, Bradford Green New Deal action group, Extinction Rebellion, Bradford Socialist Workers, Racial Justice Network, Central & Eastern European Resources, and many more.
Along the way, we have been very fortunate to be recipients of much of the support available to new co-operative and community businesses like ours. In our first two years we have received development grant funding from Power to Change, Reach Fund, the Seedbed Trust, and Bradford Council worth over £50,000. We have also been part of the School of Social Entrepreneurs Community Business Trade-up, a programme of business support and peer-led learning jointly run in partnership with Power to Change. All of this cash and support has been critical in greasing the wheels and maintaining our forward projection. It just goes to show what it takes to make it.
The Lockdown period …
It seems like a distant memory when Bread + Roses closed its doors for what would turn out to be a 6 month hiatus. Like many, during this time we faced uncertainty, the stress of constant meetings to understand what was going on, planning and replanning, dismay and relief – all of which kept us busy behind the scenes.
But once things had settled and we knew where we stood with government support, we could get to work on business planning and organisational development that would see us through until the end of summer 2020.
We were the lucky ones, and with our papers in order we received much of the government support available including furloughing all our staff for the duration, a £10,000 government grant wired straight into our account without any hassle, and a government-backed Bounce Back Loan that would refinance around £40,000 of the very expensive social investment loans we had leftover to repay from when we set up Bread + Roses in 2018. This changed the game, and will reduce our monthly outgoings by £1,500 over the next 12 months and save us thousands in interest overall. If you ever needed a good accountant now was the time; thankfully we have Arch Accountancy to steer us through and make everything easy.
Meanwhile we got to work implementing a new membership process and governance structure based on sociocracy, and we got hot on submitting funding applications!
As a community business we are guided by a commitment to building stronger, united and resilient communities, and to establish an inclusive and welcoming environment that is rooted in community and brings the people of Bradford together through providing a safe and supportive space. We aim to provide worthwhile opportunities through volunteering and membership, our shared resources, and a platform for people to start-up and grow their own business. Or so says the jargon!
With all sincerity though, those words do have real meaning for us and have been developed to explain what we do in the most succinct and impactful way we can; even if they do read as slick as The Fonz’s hairdo. And during this last period our hard work and dedication to building Bread + Roses and positioning our organisation as a “community business” has been recognised with numerous successful funding applications. Most notably, we have been awarded a £25,000 grant through the Power to Change C-19 Trading Income Support Scheme. Wow! I know, eh!
Furthermore, funding from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund, will help us to resource community action in Bradford by investing in state of the art video conferencing and online video broadcasting equipment at Bread + Roses. We will be offering free training and free trial use of all the equipment to local community groups, activists, social enterprises and anyone making things happen for a better Bradford. I’ve been told to write; thanks to the Government for making this possible.
And finally we come on to the Aviva Community Fund, and that crowdfund campaign you are all sick to death hearing about. I can’t thank people enough for putting their hand in their own pocket to help us reach our target of £2,500. Isn’t it amazing that 97 people supported us! I can’t say the same for Aviva however. Not one employee used their £25 donation to support our cause and by the look of things we were in a vast majority of projects that didn’t receive anything either. Bit of a scam if you ask me, let’s not forget that Aviva is a multinational insurance company, which through it’s so-called “community fund” benefits from the free association it gains with thousands of community organisations and worthwhile causes across the UK. Simply put, in my opinion it seems as though the mechanism for fairly distributing the funds is flawed. But anyway, it was a good exercise for us in using crowdfunder.co.uk and what we learnt the limits to how much money can be raised this way. Everyone who backed our crowdfund campaign will be offered rewards for their contribution, including original and limited edition Bread + Roses RISO artwork by five local female artists; Claudia Bowler, Gaida Dambra, Hannah Toehill, Jean Mcewan, and Mercedes Leon. Thanks again to everyone who contributed and helped us raise all this money!
We immediately got to work using the £2,500 raised from the crowdfunder to help us create more membership and volunteering opportunities at Bread + Roses. The money has been ring fenced to give 6 additional hours per week to our Communications Officer Tamsin Scott, who over the past 2 months has set up a process for managing membership and improved how we store personal data and communicate with everyone. As a result we now have 16 new members who have joined our co-operative.
Slightly different to the traditional worker co-operative model, our members are a mixture of people who are employed as well as people who volunteer or pay to use the services at Bread + Roses. We also have members who are eligible through our creative agency Chapel Street Studio. Membership is voluntary and free, and it means you get a vote on key issues and representation on our board of directors. Our membership model includes our community in active member participation (if they want to be), which is the magic trick in making us popular with our friends at Power to Change! Furthermore, in our new sociocracy-inspired governance structure, we encourage all employees, volunteers, and users to get involved in so-called Circles and Working Groups, where ideas can be brought forward, decisions are made, and the day-to-day business is done.
As we progress to reopening Bread + Roses on Monday 28th September, we find ourselves on much more stable footing. Financially, organisationally, and culturally, the gift of time given to us by this worldwide pandemic has dealt our organisation and the people within it an unexpected positive, as we can for the first time in a long while begin to look forward to the future as opposed to the here and now; even if that future is a little uncertain.
Into the future …
Later this year we plan to begin the preparation of a community share offer and campaign, set to launch in the New Year and aiming to raise £100,000 through private investors who will become Investor Members. We hope to be successful in our application to join the Community Shares Booster Programme, which will resource much of the preparatory work to be done and also match the shares we raise up to £100,000. Our aim is to purchase the building we occupy on 14 North Parade, and achieve a once in a generation opportunity to bring a landmark Bradford building back into community ownership. It is an exciting proposition and the next phase in achieving our mission to build a co-operative platform of opportunities, resources, skills, and services for the benefit of our members and the people of Bradford.
I hope you enjoyed my ramblings and can take away with you a better understanding of all the amazing work we do behind the scenes to make Bread + Roses happen. I’d like to end by giving a special thank you to Olivia, Tamsin, Avril, Carl, Ben and Claudia – who have put up with me telling them what to do and have been working tirelessly to make so much happen behind the scenes this past few months. Credit to you, with each new process and every new idea and opportunity explored, we are laying the foundations for something that – when sustainable – could make long lasting change in Bradford.
Martyn Johnston is a Co-operative Entrepreneur from Bradford and a co-founding member of the Bradford Co-operative Association. It was Martyn who brought together the people and the money to make Bread + Roses happen. His latest role is as Business + Co-operative Development Coordinator and works across the organisation to bring funding and projects into fruition. Martyn was also recently elected to represent enterprise-owned co-operatives on the board of CoopsUK and works part-time for Suma Wholefoods. He describes himself as having a strong and compromising voice for inclusion and as being an advocate for independent, co-operative, and community businesses, Bradford, and the North. If you would like to get in touch, email email@example.com