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October 30, 2023

Cooperatives rediscovered

Given Scotland’s long tradition of cooperation and mutual aid, stretching back 250 years to the founding of the world’s first ever cooperative society in Fenwick, Ayrshire, it is striking how little has been made of this important aspect of our industrial heritage over the years. But a project being developed by a West Lothian community development trust is about to change all that with an ambitious £6m proposal to create the Scottish Cooperative Discovery and Activity Centre – celebrating and tracing the origins of the cooperative movement from the local to the global. 


West Calder & Harburn Community Development Trust

Find out more about the development of this project

Scotland has a proud history of co-operation and is a UK leader yet has no dedicated celebration of that. The centre will interpret and celebrate Scottish Cooperative heritage tracing the links from the local to the global. It will be a centre where the lessons from, and potential of, co-operative models (as well as other social and value driven enterprises) can be shared and taught. We are working with Cooperative Development Scotland, Co-operative Education Trust, local and national schools, universities and further education colleges to create in-centre and outreach resources that will promote co-operation as a real world solution to modern challenges such as inequality and climate change.

West Calder Co-operative Society was a strong regional society that went on to become part of Scotmid. Its iconic Central Bakery building was completed in 1909 and was designed by renowned Glasgow architect William Baillie – a rare example of an industrial building by him, find out more about the Bakery building. A significant and important building regionally and nationally (being a combined bakery and power station), it will be renovated thoughtfully with support from Historic Environment Scotland to produce 1200sqm of modern, sustainable and functional space.

The Scottish Cooperative Discovery and Activity Centre will be a £6m investment in a region of central Scotland that is home to many areas of disadvantage (many of which are ex-mining communities where co-op heritage is strong). It will create at least 65 construction jobs during development and 22 roles upon opening. It will offer training and work experience to over 150 students ever year (as well as numerous more through outreach in schools and colleges). We are working with The National Lottery Heritage Fund (£1.2m), Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Growth Fund (£1.4m), Historic Environment Scotland (£0.5m) among other funders, to deliver the capital works and community activities.

A community share issue is planned for summer 2023 and a strong funding strategy is being actively delivered. A £300k (NLHF and own funds)

Development Stage is being completed and the project has been positively reviewed and gathered impressive partner and community support.

We are discovering a large amount of artefacts, archives and stories – both locally and nationally. We intend to co-produce stories and interpretation with communities, schools and people often excluded and to do so creatively. With support from Museums and Galleries Scotland (MGS), The Cooperative Heritage Trust, Coop Group, Paisley Museums, Glasgow Museum, The Scottish Shale Museum, New Lanark and other key heritage partners, we will develop a Scottish Cooperative Collection that not only safeguards, interprets and celebrates a proud local and national heritage but which makes it relevant to our world today. We have had great support from West Lothian Museums and Heritage Service with whom we have a museums collecting and development agreement.

West Calder & Harburn Community Development Trust is a community-led charity (SC043914) set up to take forward the local Community Action Plan for West Calder and Harburn in West Lothian. Alongside this project, they have met community aims by building a skatepark, running heritage festivals, upgrading paths, renovating the village square, running a community woods and garden, running a community café and organising regular community events including West Lothian’s largest free-entry fireworks display. They have negotiated 3 windfarm partnerships to manage £130K a year in community benefit funds and have managed local improvement and community development projects leveraging around £2m to date in outside funding into the community.

Community Ownership and Share Issue

West Calder & Harburn Community Development Trust (WCHCDT) have owned the building since 2020 and will retain ownership on behalf of the local community following the redevelopment. The Scottish Co-operative Discovery Centre attraction will be operated by a new company called The Scottish Cooperative Discovery Centre Ltd. This new company will lease the building from WCHCDT and gift any surplus (profits) back to them to be used for the good of the community. The relationship between the two organisations is shown

The Scottish Cooperative Discovery Ltd is a Community Benefit Society (regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) and it is able to raise money through members/investors buying Community Shares – find out more about our share issues.

This structure has been designed to ensure that the local community ALWAYS retains ownership and ultimate control of the asset while also including those with expertise and interest in the heritage we will be celebrating.