Some 15,000 people live in Wigan’s Abram Ward. “It used to be called ‘Giro City,” says David Baxter, Principal Officer of Made in Wigan – which is tackling social inequality in the area.
Run by charity Abram Ward Community Co-operative, Made in Wigan aims to give local people a chance to use their skills to create community businesses that address local needs.
“In the last 10-20 years, we’ve seen McDonalds and Iceland replace local businesses. But large chains don’t prioritise giving jobs to local people. And McDonald’s is the only place open after 6pm that has a seated area,” says David of the lack of employment opportunity and community provision in the ward.
“Everyone has a special something,” he continues, “whether it’s rugby, football, dancing or making craft. What we’re about is empowering individuals to use their skills and join with other people to create community businesses.”
Now in its third year, Made in Wigan does this by providing seed funding, training and support so Abram residents can successfully manage and grow their own enterprises. Engaging with the community, David and his colleagues identified a need for developing open spaces and creating more provision for people to come together to combat social isolation. From this, the Men’s Shed was set up.
“It’s a community business that brings men together to learn woodworking, gardening or any project that interests them,” David explains. “It helps them increase their self-esteem, make new friends and learn new skills. It’s been shown to improve people’s physical and mental health and reduce the need for medication. And if you want to buy local, the Men’s Shed sells what it produces. Local wildlife groups have chosen to buy raised flower beds from there instead of larger chains. It keeps wealth within the local community.”
A Women’s Shed soon followed – giving women access to the same opportunities. And the ward is currently a hive of activity, giving a new lease of life to existing properties. “We’re starting to find buildings that can provide space for our youngsters. And a working man’s club is being transformed into a place to incubate community businesses,” says David.
“We’ve set up two community cafes,” he continues. “One has started to focus on growing food too. It’s working with local primary schools. The cafe uses their gardens to grow their produce – and also educate youngsters that chips don’t come from Iceland. So the business is linking into education and the environment.
“It’s all about creating a bottom-up approach to reducing inequality via community enterprise. Instead of outside organisations parachuting in and taking the money – local people are coming up with solutions, taking action and generating wealth that stays in the area.”
Abram Ward Community Co-op in Wigan is one of the catalyst organisations for the Empowering Places programme, that aims to demonstrate the role that concentrated clusters of community businesses can play in creating better places and reducing inequality in local areas. Funded by Power to Change, the programme is delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with CLES and NEF.
The Empowering Places programme is part of our Community Economic Development (CED) work, which supports organisations and networks in local wealth building, co-op development and engaging communities in economic development.