New Leaf Co-op, Edinburgh

New Leaf was launched as a workers co-operative in 2012, when an existing 20 year old wholefood shop was put up for sale and taken over by five food-loving friends who met at university. Now run collectively, New Leaf Co-operative offers a huge range of more than 150 unpackaged ‘fill your own’ pulses, nuts, fruits and grains, alongside organic milk, fruit and veg and other wholefood and veggie basics. More unusual, and described by many as their pièce de résistance, is the co-op’s unique ‘grind your own’ nut butters machine!

The five founders, with backgrounds in co-operatives and a shared desire to promote environmentally sustainable and socially responsible food systems, raised £45,000 to take over the business, via a combination of Crowdfunding* and Loanstock*. Friends and local residents helped move in the new co-op, and the shop acts a true community hub, with customers stopping by to chat and catch up on local goings-on as well as shop.

Aimed at making wholefoods accessible, reducing packaging and promoting local produce, New Leaf run a variety of educational events and services alongside the basic retail offer. As well as their scoop and weigh service, their 'meet the producer' sessions, cookery demonstrations, and 30% discounts for volunteers all help the enterprise achieve a wide set of social and environmental aims.

On taking over the shop the co-op immediately doubled the sales space by opening up an adjoining back room. The first year’s trading culminated in national recognition in the shape of a Best Independent Retailer nomination in the Observer Food Monthly’s Food Awards. The turnover for the first year was better then predicted, however the overheads were slightly more than anticipated – but all in all it was a great first year. Now into the second year the increase in footfall is still increasing and takings steadily increasing month by month.  There are plans to refit the front room in the summer to allow for more space for loose and fresh food and to see some of the quirky plans that they have not yet been able to realise come to fruition.

Setting up, establishing and running The New Leaf Co-op has been loads of very hard work and a steep learning curve for all members. During the initial set up and planning stages the amount of hours predicted to run the shop and run the businesses were under-calculated, and so at times members are still volunteering alongside working paid hours.  This has been a challenge that the members have had to manage and something that they are working towards overcoming.

Every Monday morning all members of the New Leaf co-op attend a 3 hour meeting where the ins and outs of the co-op are discussed; issues that need collective decision making, useful points of information to share, and planning for the present and the future. The meeting is a space to discuss, organise and stay in the loop with other members. These meetings are run using consensus and each member takes turns putting together the agenda and facilitating the meeting. As not all members get much time to work together during the week, the meetings are integral for maintaining the 'co-operativeness' of the co-op and provide a time and space for a regular check-up for the business and members.

The UK is witnessing a resurgence in such co-operative-led solutions to the running of businesses and services. Figures show a near 10% increase in UK co-operative enterprises - rising from 5,450 (in 2010) to approaching 6,000 (5,933) in 2011, with a combined UK membership up by 5.5% to 13.5 million people.

* An internet-based method of sourcing donations directly from supporters. Examples include Kickstarter and Crowdfunder.

* See Co-operatives UK for information on financing a co-operative business