The Cowley Club is a volunteer-run anarchist social centre on London Road, Brighton. It houses a cafe and bookshop during the day, a members bar during the evenings. It also houses a radical library and acts as a base for a variety of projects dedicated to grassroots social change.
The Cowley Club is structured as a members-run co-operative. As such, assets and control are in the hands of all its members, the idea being that those using the centre share the benefits, responsibilities and work that comes with running it. No one gets paid, and no one is making any profit. Instead, we are trying to provide a much needed alternative to everything else around us, one that is based on the key anarchist principles of solidarity and mutual aid.
The seed money used to fund the project was initially raised via a conventional mortgage, loans from co-operative organisations, and loan-stock (loans made by individuals on a maximum five-year basis). The building purchase was completed in February 2002, then the lengthy renovation began. Much of the property was in disrepair and volunteers put in endless hours, learning the necessary skills to get our project up and running as we went along and we finally opened in March 2003.
The Cowley Club has no formal membership structure. Instead, our ‘members’ are all those people who use its facilities, who constitute and run our various Collectives, Supporter Groups and our various sister organisations such as the 12 London Road Social Club, the Mutual Aid Vegan Foodbank, etc. Additionally, those who use the Cowley Club also run it via its primary decision-making body, the monthly General Meetings (GMs). These take place at 18:30 on the first Monday of the month and all decisions are made via a consensus-building process. Decisions taken by the GM that relate directly to Club policy become part of the Club’s Secondary Rules (e.g. the formalising of Supporter Groups status, Mediation and Conflict Resolution policies, etc.). Anyone wishing to bring a formal proposal to the GM (such as a group applying for Supporter Group status, booking a meeting at the Club, and other procedures and policies) must post notice of that proposal in the Club at least seven days prior to any GM being able to discuss it.
Cowley Club Ltd. Co-op
The founding body of the Club is the Cowley Club Ltd. Co-operative. It is a legally constituted body that was originally established in November 2000 and registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1965 & 1978 with the Financial Conduct Authority. It however, does have a formal membership structure and meets once a year at an Annual General Meeting to approve the Club’s financial returns and yearly budget and to elect its officer as set out in what are known as the Primary Rules, the Co-op’s legal founding constitution. The AGM also elects a Management Committee, which is formally tasked with the day to day running of the Club, such as ordering stock, paying the bills, etc. but cedes that role to the Club Collectives and monthly GMs.
The Co-op’s membership is made up of the people who contributed to our original share issue that helped found the Club, together with those members who have been admitted since through their proven commitment to the running of the wider Club and its various Collectives and sister organisations. Potential candidates can be those who have volunteered regularly on our various Collectives for a period of at least three months, but may also include members of its sister organisations who have shown a similar commitment to the Club and its culture.
Applicants to the Co-op must be proposed and seconded by current members of the Co-op and their membership has to be approved by its existing members. Such membership however provides no additional Club privileges.
Whilst the Cowley Club Ltd. Co-operative is our principle financial organisation and has its own elected Management Committee, both in practice cede the running of the wider Club to the monthly GM and to the Admin Collective respectively [see below]. This structure was in part forced upon us by the dictates of legal necessity and collective pecuniary responsibility, but was also chosen as a mechanism whereby we are able to protect the assets of the Club from those (politically entryist elements, etc.) who would seek to seize control of them for nefarious reasons.
12 London Road Social Club
The 12 London Road Social Club Ltd. (12LRSC) is a separate legal entity that was set up under and is governed by the Co-op’s Primary Rules. It is a members only social club that rents the Club’s main space during its registered licensing hours. Its membership rules are similar to the Co-op’s in that prospective members must be proposed and seconded by existing 12LRSC members and fill out a simple application form. After paying a fee of £2.00, and their application having been displayed on the premises for at least three days to allow for any objection, it can be approved by the current 12LRSC membership at our monthly GMs. However, given that there are currently more than 5000 members, this is not the insurmountable barrier that it might seem at first sight and prospective members are rarely rejected.
12LRSC members are allowed to bring up to two guests with them to the Club and all attendees must sign the signing in book with their full names, membership number and (in the case of guests) their address. Individual guests are not allowed to be introduced to the Club more than six times in any one year and are not allowed to purchase alcoholic drinks at the bar.
Our current licensing hours are:
|Mon-Thur||18:00 - 23:00|
|Fri-Sat||18:00 - 00:00/02:00|
|Sun||12:00 - 23:00|
[but the 12LRSC may not always be open during these hours]
The bar also operates when events (e.g. gigs and other performances) are taking place during the evening and on Sunday afternoons, so attendees of these events must either be 12LRSC members or be accompanied by a member. If you are not a member and wish to attend a gig, please remember to apply for membership sufficiently far in advance so that it can be approved at the monthly GM.
As with the other elements of the Club, the 12LRSC is a volunteer-run enterprise and is managed by our Bar Collective, which organises regular bar training sessions and, in consultation with the 12LRSC membership (via the monthly GMs) sets the protocols and processes that the Bar operated under. The 12LRSC also holds its own AGM at the end of the financial year at which the annual financial returns for the Bar are scrutinised by its membership.