What better place to revive the Co-operative ideal?

Thursday, 1st July 2021

Work stops on Kentish Town cinema Prince of Wales Road Polytechnic Pizza Express

The site that was once the North London Polytechnic in Prince of Wales Road

MUCH has been written about Camden’s housing heyday in the 1970s when thousands of private homes were brought under public control by the Town Hall.

Labour government policies of the day allowed the council to take possession of blocks across the borough, leaving a real and lasting legacy for generations to come.

Several housing co-ops were also founded at the time, including the Fairhazel Housing Co-operative in West Hampstead.

It has provided secure homes to those on low and uncertain incomes, while creating a perhaps uniquely stable community in Camden for almost 50 years.

It was during the same wave of 1970s’ optimism that the Rio Cinema in Dalston was founded under co-operative management. Anyone who has lived in that part of Hackney knows it has a special place in the hearts of residents.

Co-ops and not-for-profits, run right, do more than provide an affordable service. They bring an identity and spirit to a neighbourhood that is hard to quantify in simple economic terms. The social impact can be wide-ranging; they nurture a more caring community.

It is for this reason that the proposal to set up a co-op style, not-for-profit cinema at the former North London Polytechnic building in Kentish Town should be met with real determination. There are obvious commercial obstacles, but ones that can be overcome.

The very prospect of a not-for-profit cinema being set up in Kentish Town should make us think about what else? If a cinema and a food hall is possible, then why not a gym? A vet? A care home?

Whisper the word co-op now and most people will frown. How does it work? Is it practical? How much of my time would I have to give up? But those who are involved will feel that rarest of emotions, pride, and find the process enriching.

Functioning co-ops rely on a committed group of people. Like the NHS, a co-op will only last as long as, to ape Nye Bevan, “there are folk with faith left to fight for it”.

But they also require authorities, like the council, to step in and ensure they can gain a foothold and have a real chance to survive.

Camden Council’s “Renewal Commission” is looking at how food co-ops could replace foodbanks. This would bring back dignity to so many who found themselves forced to use them, during Covid and throughout the austerity years.

Labour should take some inspiration from its 1970s forefathers and be aiming to bring a bit of dignity back to society as a whole. Reigniting a new, modern Co-operative movement here in Camden would be a good place to start.

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