About the Co-operative

This article by Jeff Pickthall originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Cumbria Life Magazine.

“One of the pubs I regularly grace with my presence is the characterful Queens Arms at Biggar Village on Walney Island. Across the pub’s courtyard there are some ramshackle old farm buildings usually known as “the barns”. Pub goers often comment “someone should do something with the barns”.

But what? The idea of an art gallery simmered for a while. Meanwhile the obvious thing, a brewery, ­was popping into the minds of regulars. The idea was put to pub owner Julie Matthews who thought it a great idea but she wouldn’t be able to fund it. We regulars put our heads together and came up with a plan: shares would be sold and a co-operative formed.

That was two-and-a-half years ago. Keen investors, including our very own Hairy Biker, Dave Myers, ­ snapped up the shares. A specialist advisor was found to help us understand the various types of co-operative and see us through the paperwork. I found myself on the managing committee and I set about writing a business plan.

In the summer of 2014 Unsworth’s Yard Brewery of Cartmel announced they were expanding to five barrel capacity so their original two-and-a-half barrel kit was for sale. We thought it reasonably priced so we bought it and put it into storage.

Julie granted us a license to use part of the barns and we set about getting appropriate planning permission. Shareholder Ian McIntosh waded through the red tape quagmire involved with using a listed building that is on a flood plane and close to an area of special scientific interest. Planning permission was finally granted in December 2014 after a series of setbacks that saw us gazing longingly at the nice easy industrial units that pepper Barrow’s fringes.

In the new year of 2015 building work commenced. We found Matt Burden, an experienced home brewer, who was willing to be our one paid employee. Along the way we “crowd-sourced” labour from our shareholders to lay a concrete floor and paint the premises.

The theme to our beer names and visual imagery is going to be Barrow’s shipbuilding heritage. We have a logo in development that will feature a representation of Barrow’s dockside cranes, ­ a strong visual motif from the town’s history.

As I type, brewer Matt will be finishing sterilising vessels for our first test brew. It’s been a long time in the pipeline.