Serving Lancaster for 40 years - one step at a time

Single Step co-operative member Alasdair McKee.
Single Step co-operative member Alasdair McKee.

A Lancaster institution is celebrating its fortieth anniversary.

A Lancaster institution is celebrating its fortieth anniversary.

Single Step Co-operative was founded in the summer of 1976 in a small shop in King Street before moving in 1977 to its present site at 78A Penny Street.

Co-operative member Alasdair McKee said: “We like to think of Single Step as a friendly, local corner shop with a difference – the main difference being that we’re not on a corner, but at the end of an alley.

“The other difference is that we try to sell groceries that meet the standards that we believe in. We think that this mixture of strong principles and a welcoming atmosphere is a big part of why we have managed to keep going for so many years.

“For example, our teas, coffees and chocolate are mostly Fair Trade, to make sure that the people who grew them are being paid properly. Our fruit and veg are organic and have been grown without being covered in chemicals. We also try to sell food that is just food and not chock-full of additives. Wherever possible we buy locally from nearby farms and producers to cut down “food miles” and support other local businesses.

“We have potatoes from Pilling, cheese from Chipping, beer from the Borough in Dalton Square, organic bread from Scotforth and we even have Fair Trade chocolate that’s made in Garstang.

“Admittedly, some of our candles and cards are imported all the way from Yorkshire and Cumbria, but you can’t beat local Lancashire, especially for cheese and potatoes.

“Everything we sell in the shop is vegetarian or vegan friendly and we try to stock plenty of products for those on special diets who have to avoid certain foods like wheat or dairy.

“We do our best to avoid overpackaging and waste by selling lots of loose foods like porridge, dried fruit and nuts.

“Having these loose foods means that people can buy as little or as much as they want, whether it be a sack of spuds or a pinch of pepper.

“Most importantly, we try to make sure that all our food is reasonably priced and good quality. We pride ourselves on regularly taste-testing our products. Especially the chocolate.

“We try to go easy on the environment, selling recycled paper, biodegradable bin bags and various eco-friendly shampoos, soaps and household cleaning products. To cut costs, and save plastic, we refill bottles of shampoo and things like washing up liquid.

“Another thing that makes Single Step different is that the business was founded as a workers’ co-op so, rather than having an owner or a manager, all the members of the co-op play a role in running it.

Single Step.

Single Step.

“The upside of this is that we don’t have a boss telling us what to do. The downside is that we don’t have a boss to moan about if things go wrong.

“Most of our main suppliers are also co-ops, so we know we are dealing with people with similar principles.

“We also work on a not-for-profit basis which means that we don’t have shareholders taking money out of the business that could be re-invested or used to keep our prices as low as possible.

“For us it’s all about looking after ourselves, our suppliers and our customers.

“We give pensioners a discount and support local charities.

“Like all businesses, we’ve had to cope with the ups and downs of the economy, so we feel very proud to have made it into our fifth decade in fairly good nick and with our principles intact.

“As we said at the beginning, we like to think of ourselves as a sort of old-fashioned corner shop that just happens to have some strong principles.

“So, if our big orange sign that says “Vegetarian Not-for-profit Wholefood Workers’ Co-operative” makes you want to run away and have a pie and a pint, don’t.

“Come in and have a veggie pasty and a bottle of organic ale instead. We’ll have one too and drink to the next 40 years.”