Co-operatives UK CEO, Rose Marley, looks back on 2022 and in the 'spirit of co-operation' offers a message of hope.
There’s so much in the world to be concerned about. We’re continuing to live with Covid; the war in Ukraine; the climate emergency; spiralling energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis... but as we look towards 2023 there is hope; there is progress; and there are solutions through working together, co-operatively.
We started 2022 offering hope to younger people. Our survey of 16 to 25-year-olds revealed serious concerns over important issues including mental health, job security, career prospects, a lack of control over their working live and climate change. But we shone a light on the co-operative solutions available to them – and followed up with our first National Youth Summit later in the year.
The Summit was led by younger people, who chose not to use the word co-operative, instead to use terminology like radical housing solutions and solving food poverty together. There are lessons to be learned, because co-operatives are about people and solutions, about providing for member need, just like Stitched Up. The co-operative led a session at the Summit and are taking on the fashion industry to help build a sustainable future by swapping, upcycling and repairing clothes. It’s a message and mission that resonates with younger generations.
It might be a bit of cliché, but young people do give me hope. They’re not jaded and cynical; but then they’re not a homogenous group that act in the same way. However, there are collective threads and concerns and so much synergy with the movement. We’d do well to remember that.
I see hope in every co-operative I visit. We've retail societies like Scotmid setting up community cafes to support women going through the menopause, while Carbon Coop are providing tangible help to transform social housing through retrofit. And we’re working hard to help those co-operatives do more. Around 350 Co-operatives UK members accessed our advice services in 2022 to find solutions to their governance, HR, membership and finance needs. And we helped bring more than 100 new co-operatives into existence as we look to grow the movement.
It's not easy. We are a small sector, but we pack an almighty punch. Our values and principles are not simply a badge to be worn. They must be at the core of every co-operative. They’re why we do business better – and there’s appetite for more, even if people don’t always know it! That appetite has seen more than £200 million invested in UK community businesses in the last decade through community shares. It’s a major landmark demonstrating that local people want ownership and control of the things that matter to them. Leeds Action To Create Homes (LATCH) is a great example. It refurbishes derelict and run-down properties in Leeds to provide supported housing for people need and LATCH’s community share offer raised £550,000. That’s local people investing their hard-earned cash and as James Hartley, the CEO of LATCH, said: “That money will now transform lives.”
Co-operatives are transformational. But sometimes transforming the business and policy environment in which co-operatives operate takes time. Earlier this year government decided to take forward an element of Sir Mark Kendrick’s Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Bill and adopt it as government legislation. Using policy jargon, it will give co-operatives the option of legally guaranteeing that some or all of their assets are held in common and non-distributable among members.
Away from the jargon, it’ll directly benefit all co-operatives – and particularly worker co-ops, housing co-ops and consumer co-ops. What’s also important here is that we’ve lobbied for reform in this area for years and years. We did not give up hope. We persisted and we’re getting results. Some things take time. In South Yorkshire we’re training and supporting business advisers to help worker co-ops; to help them start-up and thrive. It’s important work that’ll deliver in the future – and thew word is spreading. Earlier this month we were delighted to announce an expansion of the Ownership Hub as it moved into London. I love this commitment from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who said: “Increasing the number of employee and worker owned businesses is a key part of my mission to build a better London for everyone – a safer, fairer, greener and more prosperous city for all.”
Through our externally funded projects, including the Ownership Hub and our business support programme funded by The Co-operative Bank, The Hive, we pumped some £1.4m into the co-operative economy. We’re delivering results in the short term but also heavily invested in the future. It’s like our collaboration with Metro Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram to create a Green Energy Task Force for the city regions of Liverpool and Manchester. We can be the vehicle for giving people ownership of their energy. This is important stuff.
During the Covid pandemic we found that collective action began to find its voice again and deliver change. So we end the year with hope. Whether it’s people coming together to build wind farms or save venues the ‘spirit of co-operation’ is very much alive and that’s why it is our theme for 2023. We thank our members for continuing to work with us on this journey; for persevering; for living up to our co-operative values and principles; and for providing and delivering hope.