Contributed by Co-operative Housing Ireland
Comharchumann Fuinneamh Oileáin Arainn
The cooperative undertakes various activities, including:
- Programmes to upgrade residences and other buildings on the three islands of Aran, making them more energy efficient and converting them to renewable fuels
- the generation of renewable energy locally
- the creation of employment on the islands in the area of renewable energy
- the establishment of new businesses on the islands that will use cheap clean energy as part of their business plan
The islands have a combined population of 1380 inhabitants made up of all age groups. A large number of residents are dependent on social welfare. Seasonal employment is found in tourism related businesses and local activities also involve traditional fishing.
Structure and membership
Legally incorporated, it is a community owned cooperative of 50 members, registered with the Register of Friendly Societies. One resident, one share, one vote applies where the share value is €100. Anybody who lives permanently on the islands or any business that has a premises on the islands is eligible for membership. Local committees may also take out membership.
No dividends are distributed from cooperative itself at the moment. However, the cooperative intends to set up commercial companies which it will own or partially own. These companies will be open to investment from members or from the public and will pay dividends.
Formed in 2012 and incorporated within a year, the cooperative received business planning and development support and advice from Energy Cooperative Ireland while the only sources of capital were share purchases.
This social enterprise aims to make the three Aran Islands energy self-sufficient with clean, renewable, locally produced energy. Removal of dependence on oil, gas, coal and imported electricity. Timeframe: 2022.
Certain barriers were identified regarding access to finance and finance to cover running costs. Bridging finance was also a problem and there is also the issue of matching finance when grants are offered. As a solution, running costs had to be covered by being very careful when planning grant-aided projects. They have now sourced a number of bridging finance options. Matching finance is still a problem when they want to upgrade community owned buildings that have no finance of their own.
The cooperative has a strong committee of 12 members, but still does not have all the skills required to achieve goals. Energy experts, an accountant, solicitor, a website, etc are still needed. In their first year, they concentrated on building up a support network of professional people who were willing to work with them. This has included GMIT Galway, Tipperary Energy Agency, Galway County Council Energy Dept, Udaras na Gaeltachta, etc.
Finally, the legal requirements for running a cooperative are quite challenging. The committee have delegated tasks such as Treasurer, Secretary, to committee members and these people, along with the chairperson, are on a steep learning curve as they seek to comply with all the regulations and hold ourselves to a Code of Governance.
THE COTTAGE, LOUGHMORE
Website: The Cottage Loughmore on Facebook
Being locally rooted, a single cooperative can revitalize a small rural community with a local village of 100 people. Such was the case with ‘The Cottage’ consumer coop formed in 2012. A local tearoom and a shop, the cooperative proves basic retail services such as access to electronic services and community support, without which the villagers would have to rely on services in the nearest town 5km away.
The cooperative model was identified through the Plunkett Foundation, a UK based group providing support to community cooperatives in rural areas. The cooperative model provided access to capital through affordable share sales (300 x €10) and provided publicity because of its distinctive nature.
A Christmas market was held to establish the retail potential of the area and to showcase local food production. Goodwill from this event led to the holding of a public meeting to invite new members and identify volunteers. Currently there is no criteria for membership of the cooperative and no distribution of dividends.
The time between project conception and incorporation was 1 year and 8 months. Business planning and development advice was provided by the Plunkett Foundation, ICOS and North Tipperary Leader Partnership (NTLP). Training support was supplied from North Tipperary County Enterprise Board. The cooperative received 75% of financial support from NTLP, whilst the rest was contributed by philanthropic donations.
The NTLP had never funded a cooperative, had no knowledge of setting up a rural social enterprise as a cooperative and had no idea how they work, proving producing a business template difficult. The Plunkett Foundation provided a template for a cooperative enterprise and provided specific advice on setting up a rural social enterprise as a cooperative. As The Cottage was first of such enterprises in Ireland, there were no Rules available.