LIKE MANY towns and cities in Britain, Huddersfield has changed greatly in the past couple of decades, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the town centre wherc branches of the large multiple stores now dominate the shopping streets and the smaller and more individual shops have often succumbed to this competition.
But in the past two years a new phenomenon has emerged, the collectively run shop, and Huddersfield already has two examples.
One of these is the Lifespan shop, about a mile from the town centre on the Oldham road. The people who run it are from the Lifespan community, a group of nearly 30 who live communally and are • progressively renovating and rebuilding an abandoned village on the Penines about ten miles from Huddersfield.
The shop is one of their main activities and sells wholefoods, books, vegetarian magazines, recipe sheets and similar goods. It is beautifully maintained and when you go through the shop door you are met with a rich mixture of smells of herbs, spices and other foods, many of the kind reminiscent of the oldstyle grocery stores.
The main products are dried wholefoods. such as wheat germ, rice, wholewheat flour and dried fruit and beans. Many different kinds of beans and peas are sold, as well as a very popular home-mixed muesli.
All this sounds rather trendy and expensive, but the reality is very different with the shop being substantially cheaper than the usual health food store. It has become very popular in the district, and part of the reason for its success is the fact that it serves the local community rather than just the richer occasional shopper.
Indeed, it has become a, regular shopping place for the older residents of the area who find themselves once again able to buy goods which have not been sold locally for 20 years or more.
Another factor in its success may be that the shop is part of a group called the Northern Wholefood Collective. This is a loose organisation of 28 wholefood shops throughout the North of England. It is only two years old and runs a wholefood warehouse in Leeds, with all the shops run as common ownership groups registered with the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (1COM).
This means that the people who work •in each shop also own and organise it and usually pay themselves a standard wage. The highest wage in any shop in the collective at present is £25 a week. The collective runs by means of a system of six-weekly meetings with all decisions being reached by consensus.
While all this may seem quite an alternative to the usual way that shops are run, does it really make shops like Lifespan any different in practice? Perhaps only time will tell, but at least the aims are very different. These are to make the shops an integral part of each local community, not just serving as outlets for food produced by ecologically sound methods, but becoming community centres where information and ideas are exchanged and where people can meet, talk and learn.
It may be a far cry from the hypermarket but surely it is a better way to shop.
If you would like a list of shops in the Northern Wholefood Collective, write to me at the "Catholic Herald" enclosing a stamped addressed envelope and I will send you the complete list.