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Co-op Retail Conference 2023: Reflecting on an inspiring weekend of learning and making connections

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28th March 2023
Last updated
3rd April 2023
Retail conference 2023 youth panel

The 2023 Co-op Retail Conference – provided a fantastic learning, development and networking opportunity, examining some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the sector. A big thank you VME Coop for sponsoring the event! 

Summarising the busy weekend, our CEO Rose Marley said: “I've come away with a sense that the challenges we face as a society, although significant, can be tackled with more effective co-operation and that starts right here. I was delighted to see the hope and ambition for co-operation and for us to come together to create a fairer world.” 


Here are some of the highlights…  

We started with a brand-new policy workshop facilitated by James Wright, Policy Lead at Co-operatives UK. This gave delegates the opportunity to voice their opinions and directly inform our future policy work and campaigns. 

The Saturday began in earnest with a welcome from our Chair, Don Morris, who spoke about the possibility to transform the world through co-operation, after which we heard from IGD’s Dan Gillett about shopper sustainability trends – some very sobering – and were challenged to think about how retail co-ops can further drive positive consumer behaviours. 

 It was uplifting to listen to Co-op Group’s CEO Shirine Khoury-Haq speak with passion about principle six (co-operation among co-operatives) and how working together gives co-ops a competitive commercial edge. Our CEO panel – of Co-op Group's Matt Hood, Doug Field OBE, CEO of East of England Co-operative and incoming Lincolnshire Co-op CEO, Alison Hands – spoke passionately about the co-op difference and ethical leadership: “It’s about doing the right thing when nobody else is watching”. 

Retail conference 2023- Shirine Khoury-Haq

After an introduction to standard marks from Ethical Consumer Magazine's Rob Harrison (via video), we discussed the importance of co-ops getting the ‘owner member’ message through a more frequent and co-ordinated use of the co-op marque – and with clearer messaging. The session came with some inspiring examples from Suma Wholefoods' Sheree Hatton and Radstock Co-operative Society's CEO, Don Morris. 

The Midcounties Co-operative's Alison Bain and Parm Kalirai, and Denmark Co op/ Lobyco’s Anders Mittag inspired us with the highly successful app they've developed through working collaboratively. We were able to see how technology can transform member engagement and boost sales – and it sparked an exciting conversation about better collaboration across the UK movement when it comes to tech and digital developments. 

We had were presented with some frank and important insights about youth engagement and the future of the co-op movement from Dan Sodergren, Co-operative College's Daniel Cox and Co-op Group’s Jeevan Jones and Aysha Khalid. From sustainability to meal deals, we learnt what matters to young people as well as how best to engage them within co-operatives. 

Still two sessions to go and we’d already covered so much! Our penultimate session was a dizzying array of examples of how co-operatives go the extra mile to impact individuals, communities and the wider UK economy. A video from Central Co-op's CEO Debbie Robinson showed how their stores are more than just a shop; they’re welcoming hubs for the local community. Pete Westall introduced the inspiring and important work of Bright Future Co-operatives supporting survivors of modern slavery. We also heard from Kandoroo and our very own Vica Rogers gave a quick run through some incredible tech platforms making their mark in important ways – from Open Food Network to CoopCycle.  

We also announced our Co-op Fortnight campaign and our ambition for this to reach more people than ever. More on that soon!  

Joe Fortune, General Secretary of the Co-operative Party, closed the Saturday with a comprehensive guide to all the brilliant work they have been doing over the last year, as well as their upcoming plans for co-operative growth. 

Retail conference 2023- Chris Bavin

A big thank you to Scotmid Co-operative for sponsoring our Saturday evening Gala dinner! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed hearing from the after-dinner celebrity speaker Chris Bavin who truly understood co-ops and everything we stand for. We’re also thrilled that over £2000 was raised for Scotmid’s charity of choice, Guide Dogs. 

Despite Saturday night's frivolities, Sunday morning's session was packed with people and ideas sharing. Confederation of Co-operative Housing's Blase Lambert and Agitprop's Jim Holt led an interactive session about the UN Sustainable Goals and how they relate to retail societies. 

We were so enthused by the turnout, the engagement, the conversations! There was so much to follow up on and continue throughout the year. Thank you everyone who attended!  

Thanks also to our exhibitors: Co-operative News, Co-operative Party, Revolver Co-operative, Suma Wholefoods, The Co-op Credit Union and TPT Retirement Solutions.  

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See photos from Co-op Retail Conference 2023
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