“Abram Ward Cooperative galvanized community spirit and community activism in the area,” says Emma Stubbs, service lead – Place and Neighbourhood Working for Wigan Council. “Now they’re growing into providing more borough-wide support and trying to create a movement around community organising. What they’re doing is absolutely key to what we’re trying to do in the future.”
Abram Ward Community Co-operative (AWCC) was established in 2013 to provide advice, support and training to the local community to help establish social enterprises and community businesses. In 2021 they changed name to Wigan and Leigh Community Charity (WLCC) in order to reflect their growing role across the borough. When Power to Change provided funding as part of the Empowering Places initiative, they were also able to expand their vision further.
“When Power to Change got involved that put us on this completely different journey because we had money and capital to look at other buildings,” says David Baxter, who founded AWCC. “We wanted to create local initiatives to get young people learning how to set up their own business, so we created the Made in Wigan initiative.”
Made in Wigan was a success, from Men’s Sheds – supporting men of all ages to reduce social isolation develop skills in metal and woodwork – to Miss Places, set up to empower hard to reach women and engage them in developing skills and in producing various products. It now has a physical shop on the high street where people can buy said items created by these local community businesses.
Another community business they have been crucial in supporting is Piano, Pies, and Pirouettes. “We provide services to the community that are involved in the arts,” says Alan Gregory, CEO. “With a view to healthier lifestyles, opening up people’s imaginations, and providing a career pathway in the arts for youngsters.”
“We need to support community organisations but also have communities themselves come together to take the power”
They have been so successful that the next step is to open a dance school in collaboration with WLCC. “Our aim is to make Wigan a cultural hub,” says Alan. “And to open up avenues for kids from deprived areas. We like to show that there is a job at the end of this, it’s not just, ‘oh come to dance school’, we can show the skills needed in set building or electronics, all of which we have industry links with our partners. I want the kids to have opportunities or at least have the door partially open so they can take a look inside and decide for themselves.”
The business support WLCC were offering to countless people resulted in the formation of an informal borough-wide social network. This in turn led to a successful campaign to designate Wigan Borough as a Social Enterprise Town, via Social Enterprise UK’s kitemark.
The work that’s been done in the community has resulted in the council supporting and partnering with WLCC, making room for them to play a key role in future developments. “We need to support community organisations but also have communities themselves come together to take the power,” says Emma. “To create resilience, to grow, and to have an influence on the local area.
“In the long term we want the communities to be able to provide services, to be contract-ready if they want to go for commissions and bids, to fill gaps in services because they’re the ones that have got a lot of knowledge.
“It is a really important direction and WLCC are one of the organisations that will continue to help us shape this work. It is one of our anchor organisations in our community wealth building movement and the partnership really helps us to be able to understand what’s going on in the sector better. That has been invaluable to us and we’ll continue to build that relationship as we move forward.”