At the Co-operative Alternatives AGM in Belfast, representatives of co-ops, credit unions and social enterprises called on the Northern Ireland Executive – the administrative branch of the Northern Ireland Assembly – to do more to support the co-operative movement.
Co-operative Alternatives is an organisation dedicated to promoting the co-operative movement in Northern Ireland.
Tiziana O’Hara of Co-operative Alternatives said: “The draft programme for government talks about collaboration between sectors and inclusivity but there has been scant recognition from our political leaders of how support for local co-operatives could lead to a healthier, happier and more sustainable society, contributing to jobs and long term wellbeing.”
The Raglan Project in the Harryville area of Ballymena is an example of a co-op aiming to revitalise the local area – in this case by redeveloping the Raglan building. Co-operative Alternatives’ Community Shares Ready programme and the Building Change Trust are working together on the project. The building houses the Slemish n tha Braid Credit Union and the aim is to create a vibrant community and business hub, consisting of 10 units.
William Millar of the Raglan Project said: “We need political buy-in. A lot of talk comes out of Stormont [Parliament Buildings] about collaboration with grassroots organisations but not a lot of action. Members of the public are much more supportive of what we are trying to achieve.”
A guest speaker at the AGM was Peter Doran from the Queen’s School of Law. His organisation and the Carnegie Trust in Scotland have been doing research with members of the NI Assembly, senior civil servants and heads of non-governmental organisations into the issue of wellbeing.
He said: “There is a critique of growth, GDP and the monoculture that has captured our notion of what the economy is about and our vision of society and how we see ourselves as citizens. There has been a profound shift in the narrative of governance and the participation of citizens and civic society. We are keen to talk about what collaboration means and the problems that confront the economy and society.”
Now the co-op movement is looking for politicians to get on board. Co-operative Alternatives cited the example of the Welsh Assembly’s decision to allow Welsh Water to be owned, financed and managed by Glas Cymru – a company limited by guarantee where any financial surpluses are retained for the benefit of Welsh Water’s customers. With the political will, the same could happen in Northern Ireland.