Renewed commitment to support partnership will see many more new and developing co‑ops receive expert guidance and advice to help them start‑up, grow and succeed.
Co‑operatives UK and The Co‑operative Bank have announced a further £400,000 commitment to the Business Support for Co‑operatives programme (formely The Hive). The Co‑operative Bank has invested £2.5 million into the scheme since 2016, giving more businesses access to the support they need to start or grow.
The Business Support for Co‑ops programme delivers tailored business support and mentoring for start‑ups and existing co‑operatives, as well as supporting businesses looking to convert to worker or community ownership.
The programme also offers: webinars to attract new audiences to the idea of starting a co‑operative; free online resources and digital tools, including subsidised registration for start‑ups; and an after‑care package including access to free business banking from The Co‑operative Bank.
Rose Marley, CEO of Co‑operatives UK, said: “We are seeing increased demand from people looking to start and use fairer businesses. Co‑operatives are a better way to do business and transform people’s lives every day. By acting collectively we can create fairer and ethical ways to trade, consume and live.”
Nick Slape, Chief Executive Officer of The Co‑operative Bank, said: "Our business has deep and historic roots in the co‑operative movement. By supporting Co‑operatives UK, we’re committed to championing the future of co‑operatives across the UK. It’s great to see so many of them thriving, particularly through funding allocated through the Business Support for Co‑ops scheme."
The Co‑operative Bank’s funding has enabled support for more than 1,200 groups since the partnership with Co‑operatives UK began in 2016. This additional funding will offer support at earlier stages to encourage more exploration of this route as an option for business start‑ups. It will also target hard‑to‑reach demographics to inspire them to consider co‑operatives as a way of having a say in where they work, live and consume.
In recent years an increasing number of independent community food shops and wholesalers have applied for support – with loose food and zero waste retailers becoming increasingly popular due to the cost of living and climate crises. Sonas Co‑op in Northern Ireland is Lisburn’s first zero waste loose food refill store, café and event space, created by local people with a vision to promote sustainability, create community and stimulate local business.
Julie Hooley, Sonas Co‑Founder, said: "We were advised on the structure of our co‑op and, as founders and directors, it helped us understand the implications and responsibilities of that. It made us have honest conversations and have access to useful resources that helped us know what to do."
Healthcare companies have also benefitted from the scheme. Signalise – an innovative sign language interpreting service that connects deaf people, interpreters and healthcare staff – received support from the Business Support for Co‑ops scheme. Jointly owned and run by interpreters and deaf people, it as a far cry from profit‑led corporations that dominate the sector.
Signalise is now a sole provider on a large NHS framework for up to 19 NHS trusts in Merseyside. It is also developing a video interpreting service and undertaking outreach to evolve the service.
Jen Bird, Signalise Founder, said: "The support helped us start out on a strong footing. Deaf users can now log‑on to the Signalise platform and tell us who their favourite interpreters are. With private agencies, deaf people don’t have a say.
"We’ve had great feedback from our members about how reassuring that is. These kinds of initiatives are being born out of a community-driven business, which we are very proud of."
To find out more about the Business Support for Co‑ops scheme and the support available visit www.uk.coop/support.