A former co-operative department store that celebrates its 100th anniversary this month could be saved from dereliction – thanks to the formation of a new co-operative.
A group of community stalwarts in Leek, Staffordshire want to reopen the Co-operative Emporium – which first opened its doors to the public to the public in May 1911 – as a community space and retail outlet.
An arts space, meeting place, cafe, a venue for the sale of local produce, and a place for new businesses to start and grow are all needs identified by the newly-formed Leek Co-operative Society during a public consultation exercise.
In its heyday, the Leek and Moorlands Co-operative Society’s flagship store sold a range of goods on the ground floor with offices and a public meeting space above.
An article in the Leek Times, published at the time of the store’s unveiling, and accompanied by a pen and ink illustration, listed the retail offering as “Drapery, Outfitting, Boots and Shoes, and Colonial and chilled meats.”
The store closed in 1984, and in recent years has served as the town’s magistrates court and registry office. Now the sole occupants are Staffordshire and Moorlands Community & Voluntary Services, whose chief officer Jill Norman is one of those hoping to offer the Emporium a future.
Jill says the town has been without a dedicated meeting space since the town hall was demolished in 1988. “There are more than 70 voluntary groups working in Leek, many of whom could benefit from the space and activities that could be available in the Emporium,” she said.
Jill is joined on the board of the new co-operative by a number of people representing a range of interests. They include Melissa Worth of Leek Art Space, amateur historian Bill Cawley, environmentalist Nigel Williams and Mick Downs of architecture and urban design centre Urban Vision North Staffordshire.
Mick said: “Like the rest of the country, the people of Leek are bracing themselves for hard times. We would like to return this neglected building to the local community, so we can create solutions and new opportunities in the years to come.”
Melissa added: “We offer an opportunity to bring this building back to the people of Leek, to find new creative and productive uses for it, and to both reclaim and reinterpret the spirit of co-operation for today’s society.”
Anyone interested in supporting the initiative, or hiring a space in the Emporium, should contact Jill Norman on 01538 381356 or at JillNorman@smcvs.co.uk
Leek Co-operative Society is being established with the help of Co-operative Futures, which encourages and supports the formation of new co-operatives in the region.
Anyone who wants to start or grow a business that is a co-operative or community owned enterprise should contact Jim Pettipher at Co-operative Futures on 0845 456 2506 or at firstname.lastname@example.org