With the removal of a prescriptive statutory minimum age for co-operative membership in 2012, co-ops can now sign up members below 16 years of age – but while this means legislation no longer prevents co-operatives from having junior members, some societies have kept the age requirement in their rulebooks.
A guiding document published by Co-operatives UK in 2011 suggested co-ops carefully consider the issue in light of their own business and examine whether it is appropriate to have no minimum age, or whether it would be better to replace the previous minimum age of 16 with something lower. The guide suggests co-ops also explore other issues raised by having young people as members, such as, how members meetings would be managed in the light of child protection requirements.
“Societies need to consider to what extent the benefits they offer to members are appropriate for young people,” says the document.
According to the Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Act of 2014, a person under the age of 18 may be a member of a registered society unless the society’s registered rules provide otherwise.
The law says that a person under 18 may enjoy all the rights of a member of a registered society. However, a person under the age of 16 may not be a member of a registered society’s committee or a trustee, manager or treasurer of a registered society.
So what are some of the UK’s retail societies doing to engage with a younger membership?
The Co-operative Group
The Group accepts members under 16 if parents or guardians apply on their behalf. Junior members are entitled to the 5-and-1 reward scheme, but cannot get involved in running the business, vote at general meetings or stand for election until they turn 16.
Members must be over 16, and have held a £1 minimum initial share contribution in their share account for at least six months.
Membership is open to anyone aged 16 and over, living in a community served by Scotmid; every member must hold at least £1 in a Scotmid share account. The number of members under 18 is growing but represents only 5% of the membership.
Di Bateman, head of membership engagement, said: “Our membership requirement starts from age 16, so working with schools on various projects is an important way for us to reach out to the younger audience and teach them our values.”
Lincolnshire Co-op has engaged with young people for twenty years through two clubs, Kool Kidz and Activate, before launching its junior membership scheme in October 2015. Now children aged 5-15 can become junior members, receiving their own membership number that they keep for life.
Lincolnshire currently has 6,415 junior members, who have their own dedicated website that tells them about local days out and activities. They can also nominate charities to support and receive their own dividend card from the age of 12 so they can collect and spend their dividend. At 16, they automatically become members.
One of the biggest ways that Lincolnshire Co-op has engaged with junior members is through the free fruit campaign; junior members receive a ‘fruitastic’ fruit card, which they can present in any Lincolnshire Co-op food store in exchange for a piece of free fruit every day during campaigns – which mostly coincide with school holidays.
“Junior membership is all about giving young people a positive experience of being a member of Lincolnshire Co-op, while providing the widest possible range of exclusive benefits,” says member engagement manager Richard Whittaker.
“They grow up within the society and we think it’s a great way of engaging and interacting with as many people as possible in the local area.”