Aizlewood's Mill Celebrates 25 Year Anniversary

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Aizlewood's Mill, Home of Sheffield Co-operative Development Group

Aizlewood’s Mill is a fine example of a Victorian flour mill lovingly restored and brought back to life as co-operatively owned and run managed workspace by Sheffield Co-operative Development Group.

Built over 150 years ago on the site of the former nursery gardens of Sheffield Castle, it was one of the few buildings to survive the first Sheffield Flood of 1864 and became an iconic landmark of the Sheffield skyline as it milled grain from the Lincolnshire cornfields for over 100 years before eventually being sold twice in the 1960s and unfortunately reaching a state of dereliction in the 1980s.

It was at this point that the building came to the attention of SCDG employee Mike Bower, when passing the building on his way to work, who formulated the idea of developing Aizlewood’s Mill into managed workspace as a central hub for the development and support of worker co-operatives in the local area. An offer of £1 was made for the property which, after a short period of concern when another potential buyer surfaced with a substantially higher offer, was accepted. Just over £2 million pounds was raised to pay for the renovations, from a variety of sources including grants and loans, and work began in 1988.

The first tenants, Traffic Systems Co-operative, joined Sheffield Co-operative Development Group and the management company, Accountability Northern Limited (another worker co-operative), who moved into Aizlewood’s Mill at the beginning of 1990 shortly followed by a host of other organisations, some co-operative and other traditionally structured, who recognised the benefits of sharing workspace. In July 1990 Aizlewood’s Mill was officially opened by Gordon Brown who was at the time Opposition Spokesman for Trade and Industry.

Aizlewood’s Mill is celebrating 25 years of supporting co-operatives and is proud to offer a Grade I service in this Grade II listed building, putting the co-operative value of collective self-help into practice.

Sheffield Co-operative Development Group

The Mission Statement of SCDG states:

“Sheffield Co-operative Development Group’s purpose is to promote the development of co-operatives and other enterprises which offer people opportunities to increase their control over their working lives”

The founder members of S.C.D.G. were:

  • Sheffield Co-operative Party
  • Brightside & Carbrook Co-operative Society
  • Sheffield & Ecclesall Co-operative Society
  • The Co-operative Bank (Sheffield Branch)
  • Sheffield Trades Council
  • Sheffield City Council

It was founded in 1980 and officially opened by Lord Oram chair of the Co-operative Development Agency. The C.D.A. was set up by parliament (with all party support) to promote the co-operative sector.

A spokesman for the S.C.D.G. At the time said:

‘The intention of the Group is that the traditional part of the Co-operative Movement – the retail societies, the bank and the Co-operative Union – will work in close association with the newly emerging industrial and servicing co-operatives on the basis of mutual aid. The Group will collaborate with all the other national organisations to receive financial support or advise for individuals wishing to form a co-operative’.

Help was given to the Group by Mr. P Shireby the City Council’s Industrial Development Officer and members of the Industrial Development Unit. A full time worker was recruited.

This initiative brought in a new wave of co-operatives into the city. The Group worked with the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM). At the turn of the new century ICOM was incorporated into the Co-operative Union which changed its name to Co-operatives UK.

SCDG Today

Sheffield Co-operative Development Group is a small business advice agency specialising in helping people set up and develop democratically owned businesses. Importantly it not only helps them start but continues to help them and is available whenever needed.

Co-operative businesses and other forms of genuine worker participation have many advantages for their employees – they know what is going on and take the important decisions themselves or with other colleagues locally – they are not dependent on distant employers.

At the same time they are private entrepreneurial businesses which have to operate profitably.

Sometimes the decisions faced are difficult, sometimes groups disagree, but co-operators must accept their responsibilities and act in a positive and timely way.

At SCDG people are listened to and help given so that considered decisions can be made.

This is done by a process of:

  • Consultation
  • Discussion
  • Listening
  • Developing
  • Nurturing

Backed by professional skills, extensive experience and long term involvement SCDG has developed “user friendly finance” through Sheffield Co-operative Ventures Ltd, a successful revolving loan fund.

Co-operatives seek to apply the principles adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA):-www.ica.coop

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training and information
  • Co-operation amongst co-operatives
  • Concern for Community

This work continues at the Mill with ever increasing numbers of enquiries from groups of people who seek co-operative solutions for their various enterprises.

Aizlewood Business Centre offers a range of services to residents and non-residents including

  • Conference and Meeting Rooms
  • Secretarial Support
  • Book-Keeping and Payroll
  • Virtual Office facilities

We can be contacted on 0114 282 3123 and through our website at www.aizlewoodsmill.com

References

  1. The December 1980 edition of Sheffield Topic which can be found in the Sheffield Local Studies Library.
  2. Co-operative News Spring 1990 (SCDG newsletter not Co-operative Press)
  3. I have also quoted from the Aizlewood’s Mill website: www.aizlewoodsmill.co.uk
  4. And the S.C.D.G. website; www.scdg.org