We have been working on a project in Oldham, Greater Manchester, that aimed to support community-led social enterprises and co-operatives to grow and supply food locally, and help a transition from emergency provision to a more sustainable, and community-led food-system.

This blog post has been adapted from an article written by Tom for the ACES Terrier, which details our efforts in providing support for the Community Fed: Oldham project.

Food Insecurity

The last decade has seen the numbers of people accessing food bank services increase dramatically.  The Trussell Trust (one of the largest food bank operators in the UK) alone shows that the number of food banks operating in the UK has more than doubled since 2014/15 (1)

Whilst the provision of emergency food through food banks and mutual aid sites is vital in stopping people from going hungry, it is often regarded as a sticking-plaster approach to a problem with a better, and longer term solution.   

And there is an argument that part of the ‘popularity’ of foodbanks can be put down to more visibility of their use, as more and more communities and families overcome their anxiety of showing that they are in need, and start to demand a food bank locally to resolve their hunger needs.  Put more simply, when a community experiencing food insecurity sees a food bank working elsewhere, they start to demand one for themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but there are other approaches and other systems that can support communities to become more food secure.  In particular is the use of enterprise and co-operation in communities that can not only supply food that communities demand, but also nurture a supportive network of food suppliers that can respond to emergency need.

We have been working with Stir to Action across Oldham for the last year, supporting community led social enterprises and co-operatives to grow and supply food more using different enterprise models, with a business incubator model tailored to local needs with associated grants for a new Fellowship of emerging food enterprises.  The Community Fed Oldham (2) and Food Security Challenge (3) projects has been helping the food-ecosystem in Oldham to start transitioning from emergency provision to a more sustainable – and community-led food system. 

Community Fed

The capacity building work in Oldham has had a high impact with marginal investment and included a programme of co-production sessions to determine local needs, training for representatives of food community enterprises, peer learning opportunities, site visits, one-to-one coaching and grants totalling £52,000 distributed to six food enterprises.

“The whole process from start to finish has been a valuable resource beyond any expectations, from looking at all the opportunities, networking, & supporting us to understand our own needs in developing the project.”

 Karen Flowers and Alan Price, Lees Park Eco Hub (4), Community Fed Oldham and Food Security Challenge participants

It’s been encouraging to see the growth in confidence of those taking part in the work across several areas. Participants have improved their business skills and their outlooks of their enterprises from attending several training workshops.  They have become more confident in articulating what they are doing thanks to coaching and mentoring on how to pitch their work associated with the grants they received.  And they have grown cultural and social capital, demonstrated through a strong desire to continue networking with and working with their food sector peers in the long term.

Victoria Holden and Rose Ssali from GROWE (Grassroots Oldham Women's Enterprise): Food Security Challenge participants

Community stewardship in action

This work has seen some excellent working across several teams in Oldham council, including the public health team, policy team, community team, commercial team and estates team.  The work was commissioned by the co-operative and forward thinking (5) Public Health team at Oldham who at the time were also actively responding to high demands for use of food banks from citizens and residents in Oldham.  As part of their work, the Public Health team have been hosting a quarterly forum linked to Oldham Food Strategy (6) - the Oldham Food Partnership includes representatives across Oldham Council teams as well as the community and commercial sectors. 

An important part of the strategy in Oldham has been the transfer of land from Oldham Council estate assets into community use. Northern Roots (7) in Oldham is the new steward for 160 acres of land that will be transformed into a destination green space for learning, leisure and growing to benefit the environment, and improve health, wellbeing and livelihoods.

The business model for Northern Roots is still under development (8), but the land access agreements are set through a long term lease from Oldham Council to the Northern Roots charity. This lease will be seen as an asset, both by the community, but can also give legal assurances on future use. Most companies in the UK can ‘dispose’ of their assets however they like, but in the case of Charities, Community Benefit Societies and Community Interest Companies, they have a statutory Asset Lock(9). Meaning assets must always be used for the purpose they are set out for, even if those assets are sold. Northern Roots has set this out in their Charitable Objects (10), which commits the land to public benefit for the remainder of the lease. The Estates Team has assurances that this asset will be stewarded for the benefit of people in Oldham for the foreseeable future.

What has been learnt?

As the first stage of work comes to an end, it's important to share key learning so that pilots like this can be taken forward elsewhere.  Takeaways include: 

  • There’s a clear link between engagement in capacity building measures (the workshops) and quality of pitches and business plan and therefore grant received
  • Having a tangible use for the capacity building work - the grant programme - so soon after it finished meant that learning could be applied and embedded by participants
  • There is a clear link between engagement in capacity building measures and understanding of food security and system food issues from participants. 
  • Engagement with the capacity building meant participants meant we heard a wider set of needs, and participants helped to build solutions to those needs in to their enterprise models - helping to move away from emergency food provision

There is a clear need for more work, including access to more land, inviting grant and investment finance into the space, but also more networking opportunities - a need particularly expressed by Food Security Challenge participants.

“We are keen to be part of an informal alliance of Challenge Fund Winners and also mentor groups or people who may be new to this work. Thanks also to Nicola and Tom and other members of Stir to Action and Shared Assets teams for their valuable support during the Challenge Fund process.” 

David Hanlon & Lina Valencia-Shaw, Wildbrook Community Food and Grow Hub, Community Fed Oldham and Food Security Challenge participants

Food Security Challenge Awards: Nicola Scott (Stir to Action), David Hanlon & Lina Valencia-Shaw (Wildbrook Community Food and Grow Hub)

The partnerships and relationship between local authority and citizen groups here is great to see, particularly in a community where food poverty has affected so many. It is clear that trust goes a long way in Oldham, which has been increasingly unusual in other communities and places. It is important that this trust is retained and spread to allow more communities to know that with land they can build the world they want to see… 

If you have a spare 160 acres (or more), how might you see local people sharing the decision making and gaining access to the benefits and opportunities it holds? 

Get in touch with hello@sharedassets.org.uk if you have any ideas or reflections you’d like to discuss with us. We would love to hear from you.


  1. End of Year Stats, Trussell Trust, https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/, Accessed March 2023
  2. Community Fed, Stir to Action https://www.stirtoaction.com/community-fed Accessed March 2023
  3. Food Security Challenge, Stir to Action https://www.stirtoaction.com/food-security-challenge , Accessed March 2023
  4. Lees Park Eco Hub, Get Oldham Growing, https://getoldhamgrowing.wordpress.com/2022/02/28/seed-swap-event-at-lees-park-eco-hub/, Accessed March 2023
  5. Oldham Council are members of the Coop Council Innovation Network (CCIN) - a network of councils committed to growing an inclusive and co-operative economy where they work https://www.councils.coop/ 
  6. Oldham Food Strategy, Action Together, https://www.actiontogether.org.uk/sites/actiontogether.org.uk/files/Oldham%20Food%20Strategy%20final.pdf Accessed March 2023
  7. Northern Roots, Vision and Mission, https://northern-roots.uk/vision-and-plans/ Accessed March 2023
  8. A New Approach to Urban Green Space, Medium, https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/a-new-approach-to-urban-green-space-621f8d87822b Accessed March 2023
  9. Simply Legal, Coops UK, page 34, https://www.uk.coop/sites/default/files/2020-10/simply-legal-final-september-2017.pdf Accessed March 2023
  10. Charity Commission, Northern Roots, https://register-of-charities.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-search/-/charity-details/5168134/governing-document Accessed March 2023
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