Sound Bites Co-op, Derby

Sound Bites was set up in 2004 when two friends, recently arrived in the city, realised there was nowhere that they could go and do their own food shopping and feel good about where their money was going. They wanted to make ethical shopping easier, and create a focus point for information about trade and other issues. They knew other people were thinking the same thing, so one night they just decided to start their own wholefood shop, determined to make organic, healthy food accessible to all.

Early on, they chose to be a not for profit workers co-operative, where surplus would be reinvested back into the business or towards other like-minded projects. Social Enterprise East Midlands funded the registration of the co-op and a year's 'development' post, another co-op chipped in towards start-up costs, and practical assistance came from Catalyst, specialists in co-operative registration and development, and Radical Routes, the UK network of worker co-ops and housing co-ops. They were very lucky to be joined early on by an accountant, and an experienced wholefood co-op worker!

The co-operative started small, with market stalls at Derby Farmers Market, followed by 7 months in the city’s market hall. After building up a base of customers, support, and experience the business moved into the city-centre shop where they still are today.

Founder members worked all hours to get Sound Bites off the ground, and spent over a year working on the project before the shop became a reality. On a bigger scale to anything members had done before, the experience was daunting, but has paid off. Thanks to the input of the members, cover staff and many volunteers, loyal customers, various grants, physical improvements, Sustrans for renting upstairs office space, and Yaffle Cafe renting the first floor, after the financial strains of the first few years, 9 years on the co-op managed to repay all remaining loanstock a year early, can now pay for co-op meeting time, and all founder members have moved on. 

As well as the shop, Sound Bites runs a home delivery and veg box scheme, catering service, quarterly newsletter, and occasional events such as the Derby Real Food Fair. One of the high points of the week for co-op members is when the Infinity pallet arrives during a meeting, and we all run down and strip it in minutes!

One of the founder members had this advice for start-ups:

“Find out what support there is in your area for social enterprises and visits other shops for inspiration, ideas, advice and experience. Produce a newsletter and get people to join your mailing list. Share skills, ideas and responsibilities….Remember there are individuals and organisations out there that can play a part. Lots of people have given their time and skills to helping Sound Bites, including graphic design, distributing newsletters, scrubbing the floor, performing at our benefit gig, catering, donating money, and storing equipment. Finally, don’t expect it to happen instantly. Time can be good for ideas and plans to evolve and become more viable. Keep at it and enjoy it”