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Blog: Co-operatives and thriving communities everywhere

Blog post

James Wright
Written by
James Wright
25th April 2024
Climate action
Four young people stand on the beach, facing the ocean with one hand raised in the air. Text overlay reads: 'Blog: Thriving communities everywhere' above the Co-operatives UK logo.

Ahead of the local elections, in this blog from our Policy and Development Lead, James Wright, we look at how co‑operatives help communities everywhere to thrive, from inner cities to remote islands. 

Across the UK, consumer co-operatives lead on fair pay and inclusive employment, writes Co‑operatives UK's Policy and Development Lead, James Wright. And with no shareholders to satisfy, the pounds people spend are either reinvested in the business or paid back in customer dividends and community initiatives. Their recent leadership on retail crime and community safety has prompted a long overdue change in criminal law

Communities also form co-operatives to take action on climate and the environment. This includes additional renewable deployment, often combined with energy efficiency, demand management and behavioural innovations. We are also seeing a spike in new retrofit co-operatives, community‑led rollout of EV charging infrastructure, sustainable food and nature restoration.

Faced with rural market failures, people have long formed co-operatives to provide critical services like broadband, a post office, a meeting place, or a shop selling essential supplies. Meanwhile, over 100,000 farmers in the UK mitigate volatility, invest in technology and secure access to downstream processing and markets through co-operatives. 

Back our call for co‑operative growth
Leading UK co-operatives have called on all political parties to commit to co-operative growth at the next general election.

In towns and cities, co-operatives can breathe new life into places suffering socio-economic pain. Where it’s happening, community ownership on highstreets, of cultural venues and of social infrastructure is making a difference to local life. Meanwhile credit unions offer financial inclusion, resilience for families and a way to recirculate wealth in working class communities, and are seeing strong growth in membership and business

In rural and urban areas, communities use co-operatives to tackle the housing crisis. Rental co‑operatives offer private tenants an unrivalled combination of affordability, security and control. Through co‑operatives, communities are building new affordable homes, while others are renovating and retrofitting existing stock for affordable rent, often meeting the housing needs of groups poorly served by the market.

Influencing policy-makers and policy

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Policy implications 

We love that local policymakers increasingly target co‑operative growth. And based on the content of local manifestos, we expect to see more elected on 2 May. Kim McGuiness in the Northeast would support community ownership, as would Andy Street in the West Midlands, while also backing the social economy. Sadiq Khan in Greater London and Oliver Coppard in South Yorkshire have both committed to backing co‑operatives and democratic business. 

In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham has pledged to continue working with the new Our Business platform to support co-operative and inclusive business growth. Manchester Greens also who want to see support for new co-operatives.  But what makes places like Glasgow, Manchester, Cornwall and rural Wales co-operative hotspots? How can local policy tap into this? And what role could national policy play? 

We are working with the Greater London Authority and West Midlands Combined Authority to stimulate growth in worker ownership. We are also supporting combined authorities in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire to deliver on their co-operative ambitions. And we are 12 months into a five-year partnership with leading think-and-do tanks, to lay the foundations for more inclusive and democratic economies in South Yorkshire, West Midlands and the North East. Supporting communities to empower themselves through co-operatives is core to what we are trying to do. The partnership has just published its Reclaiming our Regions, its first national policy paper, reflecting on what’s been learned so far. 

Nationally co-operatives have issued a Call for Co‑operative Growth, setting out how the next government can harness their superpowers to deliver a high-wellbeing and low carbon economy. Ahead of the general election, we need all co-operatives to make their voice heard. 

How combined authorities can help build more inclusive local economies

One year's learnining from the Reclaiming Our Regional Economies (RORE) partners – CLES, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), Co-operatives UK and the Centre for Thriving Places (CTP).
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