jump to navigation



My main work is to promote the social economy – co-operatives and other social enterprises – at European level. I live in Leeds, Brussels and Amsterdam, and am interested in trams and beer.

A selective biography

Back in 1976 I founded the Durham branch of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, which proceeded to organise the first beer festival in North-East England, held in Fowler’s Yard, an unattached youth centre just behind the Market Place. We sold out, and had to make a lightning dash to Masham to top up with Old Peculier, missing our appearance on the television news. For a while I also drove these sort of buses around County Durham, a job which taught me patience. I was the founding secretary and licensee of Leeds Beer Co-operative, which in April 1980 opened a real ale off-licence called the Ale House on Woodhouse Moor. The beer we sold most of was Timothy Taylor’s, which in those days you could hardly find in Leeds. Eventually they took the shop over on their own account.

You can see our beer tent (and a Suma van) in this National Co-ops Archive photo from one of the Beechwood Co-op Fairs.

Having become fascinated by co-operatives while at university, I moved to Leeds to take the chance offered by my friend Harry to join the wholefood (and now beer) wholesaler Suma, then in Leeds with a workforce of seven, now in Elland with a workforce of about 150 and a turnover approaching £50m! We had one of these with its iconic anarchist radiator grille, which I used to drive down to WBS in what is now Canary Wharf to pick up fruit and nuts etc. In fact I ran myself over with it, but that’s another story. My main legacy is the PICK-based computer system, which I specified, purchased and adapted. I’m proud to say that it has been able to grow with the business for no fewer than 36 years, despite 2 failed attempts to replace it with something more “modern”. I lived for about five years in Tangram Housing Co-op in Harehills: we started off paying a fiver a week for a room in a short-life through terrace house, and gradually moved upmarket into permanent renovated housing. After that I got my own (shared) mortgage. Many of the friendships have endured.

I became Secretary of ICOM (the Industrial Common Ownership Movement, now merged with Co-operatives UK) which had its office in Leeds’s fantastic airy oval Corn Exchange. In those days corn merchants still met weekly on the trading floor to riffle samples of grain through their hands, but it is now given over to specialist shops. At my interview I was asked what I liked doing best, and answered “having a long slow breakfast with friends”. Apart from the obvious exceptions, this is still the case.

I set crosswords for Leeds Other Paper for a while, but can only rarely do the Guardian cryptic one. Nowadays I prefer killer sudokus (sudokus combined with kakuros) and can solve almost all the Guardian/Observer ones.

I’m a life member of the YHA, which cost £16 at the time.


From September 2015 until the end of 2018 I led AEIDL‘s team providing technical assistance for transnationality in the European Social Fund. The contract involved animating 10 thematic networks among EU member states, and building and running a website and database to enable ESF projects to find partners in other countries. It was fun, although the change from working at home to going to the office every day took some getting used to!
See the official website.
For the previous 5 years I supported one of these thematic networks, the Social Entrepreneurship Network (SEN) and its predecessor BFSE. These brought together 9 European Social Fund managing authorities, led by Poland, to learn how to work better with the social economy. I also worked with COPIE, a similar network in inclusive entrepreneurship. Linked with these, I am the principal editor of Wikipreneurship, the online knowledge centre on inclusive entrepreneurship, social enterprise, social innovation and local development, which has built up over 1,000 articles since its launch in 2008. Till 2012 I also supported the network on transnational co-operation, which took me to Prague as well as Warsaw.

I chaired AEIDL’s ‘sub-committee 3’ on ‘Own projects’, which had the job of applying AEIDL’s trading surplus to its social objectives. It nursed Eamon O’Hara’s initiative to establish ECOLISE, a European super-network of transition initiatives.

In 2017 we started the European Migrant Entrepreneurship Network (EMEN) project, which is establishing 3 communities of practice – in coaching and mentoring; access to finance; and professionalisation and diversity management. We held our first conference in Munich in May 2018.

In June 2019 I was elected to AEIDL’s board.


1. Kitty - 15 December 2013

great articles Toby, let’s go for it!
Mind changing and image changing not for the sake of supporting the current system , but to support the change we have to make together

2. Paul Hildyard - 6 November 2013

Hi Toby

Just came across your blog so Linkedin is obviously useful for something after all!
I well remember you running yourself over with that lorry. I dined out on that story for years!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: