Framework sections highlighted: Action, Change, Strategy

The Windmill coffee shop: not business as usual

29th August 2018

In Stockport, Greater Manchester, community organisers are harnessing the power of social enterprise to bring organising to the area.

The Windmill looks, from the outside, just like any other modern coffee shop, but its history is quite remarkable.  In 1819, a group named the Stockport Radical Union for the Promotion of Human Happiness gathered at the spot where the coffee shop now sits, to march to St Peter’s Fields in Manchester and demand the vote, at a time when only men who owned land could engage in the formal democratic process.

Today, almost 200 years later, things have changed significantly, with universal suffrage now granted to adults across the country, regardless of background, status or gender.  But considering the national voter turnout for the last general election was just over two-thirds, and Stockport’s turnout was just under two-thirds, this highlights a sizable chunk of people who either don’t feel that formal democracy is working for them, or are pursuing alternative ways to engage, meaning the work of those who gathered at the site of The Windmill in 1819 is far from over yet.

The Windmill coffee shop is continuing this legacy of people power and challenging business as usual in its mission as a social enterprise.  What its customers may not know when they go in to buy a latte, is that the profit made from their purchase is going towards funding a role designed to challenge existing power and support the community to create lasting change in Stockport.

Greater Manchester’s member organiser Nicola, from Social Action Hub Starting Point, explains the reasoning behind funding community organising with coffee:

We wanted a vehicle we could use to draw out money to pay a community organiser’s salary, so we didn’t have to focus on a specific issue [which grant funding usually requires]. The remit is just to focus on one geographical area. We’re funding it with a coffee shop because that’s what we know.
Nicola Dean, Member Organiser

The Windmill is a partnership between local businesses Taylors in Woodley, Start Point Coffee Shop and housing association Stockport Homes.  Opening in August last year, it has now generated enough profit to fund a full-time community organiser, which they are currently in the process of recruiting.

The organiser funded by The Windmill’s profit will work with residents who live near the coffee shop, most of whom are Stockport Homes tenants in the nearby tower blocks.  The organiser will connect residents based on common concerns and ideas and support them to build their collective power and make the changes they wish to see where they live, whatever those changes may be.

“Some people think it’s just going to be an event organiser, but we know it’s more than that”, explains Nicola, who is aware that from the outside, community organising can be mistaken for other forms of community engagement that are more short term.  But by employing the strategy of sustaining the community organiser’s role through a viable business, rather than relying on grant funding, The Windmill is laying the foundations for some lasting change to be built in the area.  Nicola also sees this model as one that could be replicated across the country:

“How amazing would it be if every town had at least one business, and it doesn’t have to be a coffee shop, that employed a community organiser?”

The vision Nicola proposes is an exciting one, and The Windmill has taken a bold step towards that vision, soon to be impacting the community of Stockport and perhaps even beyond.


If you've got a great story about community organising and the positive impact it is having in your community we would love to hear from you.