African community co‐op follows footsteps of the Rochdale Pioneers

A disused carpet shop in Rochdale is being transformed into a new site for an Anglo‐African cultural and community centre, thanks to financial assistance from The Co‐operative Loan Fund.

The finance from The Co‐operative Loan Fund supplements money raised by the investment of 123 members in a community share issue. The renovation of the building ‐ which is situated on the edge of Rochdale town centre near the historic Rochdale Pioneers museum – begins this week, and will be ready for Maracuja (meaning ‘passion fruit’ in Portuguese) to move into in August.

The new premises will act as a community hub aiming to raise awareness of Anglo‐ African culture. It will have a cafe specialising in African cuisine, which will support local food growth and source food from local providers where possible.
The renovation will also provide an exhibition space for local artists and offer a function room available for hire. It will house an advice service focusing on employment and training skills for disadvantaged local people, and Maracuja is in talks to work with local colleges to offer apprenticeships and training to students. The centre will also offer a consultancy service aiming to assist other local organisations.

The nearby Rochdale Pioneers Museum, which is due to reopen after refurbishment at the end of the month, is keen to support the venture and has offered Maracuja gallery space in the museum, as well as space to use for training and classes.

Maracuja currently runs a catering service from temporary premises, and recently participated in the annual Feel Good Festival where the members hosted an African food stall for two days. Maracuja also secured a contract with African charity Nestac, catering for over 400 people at their annual event. In October 2011, Maracuja catered for 100 people at a wine and cheese event in Manchester organised by The Co‐operative.

Peggy Mulongo, one of Maracuja’s founders, said: “The money from the Co‐operative Loan Fund has allowed us to move forward with the renovation of our new building. It is an ideal space for Maracuja – situated just down the road from the museum – and the renovation is vital to our project.”

Maracuja also received business advice from The Co‐operative Enterprise Hub. It is one of a number of co‐operatives to have benefited from the services of both The Hub and The Loan Fund.

Ian Rothwell of The Co‐operative Loan fund said: “There is a lot of support for the group from public bodies, charities, and the co‐op sector. They are seen as the next generation of Rochdale Pioneers.”