It isn’t often we get the chance to cover the story of a new community-owned social enterprise literally on the eve of its opening. It is even less often that that new enterprise is a fish and chip shop!
A community owned chip shop? Yes, it seems unlikely. But then when you think about it, it seems an obvious idea — or perhaps an idea that has simply been waiting for its time to arrive.
Well, in Chelmsley Wood, in north Solihull, that time has arrived and Chelmund’s Fish & Chips at 856 Chester Road, Chelmund’s Cross, B37 7WG — what is thought to be the first community owned chippy in the country — opens for business on Thursday 1st March.
It all started a couple of years ago when a group of local organisations — Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church, Three Trees, St Andrew’s, Olive Branch Kitchen and specialist social enterprise consultancy firm Development in Social Enterprise — saw an opportunity to benefit the local economy on every level.
‘We saw smart new shop units going up as part of Solihull MBC’s regeneration programme,’ says Neil Roberts from Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church, one of the partners, ‘and we thought, someone’s bound to open a chippy there… And then we thought: why not us? We talked with Central England Co-Op who were building the units and they were supportive of the idea and asked us to submit a proposal.’
But even with a site in mind and sympathetic developers who were warm to the idea, it hasn’t been a quick or trouble-free process. It has taken two years of planning, negotiating and a good number of sleepless nights. This helps illustrate that as with any new business you really need participants who are prepared to stick with it. Investment in the new enterprise has come from its partners, from North Solihull Partnership, community finance provider ART Business Loans and the social investment fund CAF Venturesome.
A new social enterprise was formed to manage the business. Alan Crawford, manager at Three Trees says, ‘The partners brought together the skills required — community development, business planning and catering — and formed a dream team for a community owned business.’
The new social enterprise emphasises that the chippy is a business, not a charitable project. Dave Lane, director at Development in Social Enterprise says, ‘The only difference between us and the next business along is that Chelmund’s Fish & Chips is a social enterprise set up to reinvest its profit back into its community. It is a business model, but the profits are locked in to guarantee community benefit.’
There is an emphasis on employing local people and using local supplies wherever possible, as well as the extra benefits to the local economy as money stays in the community rather than going to distant shareholders or centralised national offices.
So what is the plan? ‘People aren’t camping outside yet,’ jokes Mitchell Sherriff, the new manager, ‘but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did given the number of people saying how long they’ve been waiting for a chippy in the area!’
After covering overheads, all profits from the chippy will be reinvested back into the community. Mike Harmon, the local Anglican vicar, says, ‘The profits belong to the community and we’ll use them to support local projects and events. And in the longer term we’ll be looking to start other new businesses too so that we can offer even more employment and opportunity in the local community.’
How you can help
Treat yourself and the family at Chelmund’s Fish & Chips, 856 Chester Road, Chelmund’s Cross, B37 7WG!
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As we have reported elsewhere in this series of stories when we covered the Miracle Laundry, the trend for social enterprises to provide what might be regarded as purely commercial services marks a new direction in the sector and is slightly counter-intuitive. Rather than offering services that are synonymous with their social mission — health or services to support families or young people, for instance — these new ‘commercial social enterprises’ look for local economic opportunities where the prospects of generating a decent profit for reinvestment are good. Goods and services that local communities need are made available, but using the social enterprise business model commits the enterprises to reinvest for community good.
As someone commented on the chippy’s Twitter feed: ‘Fish, chips and community action — what’s not to like?’
We agree and we wish Chelmund’s Fish & Chips every success.
The chippy opens at 4pm on Thursday 1st March. Form an orderly queue.
→ Chelmund’s Fish & Chips, 856 Chester Road, Chelmund’s Cross, B37 7WG