Wendy Carter has just moved to Co-operatives UK, the apex body for the UK co-op sector, to lead its communications and marketing activities. She previously worked as head of development at the recently renovated Piece Hall venue and leisure centre in Halifax, following a series of marketing roles in the charity sector. Here, she talks about digital content, the need to tell co-op stories and the potential for growth in the movement.
Can you describe a typical day?
As I am new to the role, I am writing a marketing strategy for Co-operatives UK and looking at our communications with a fresh pair of eyes, which is always useful when you join an organisation which has been running for nearly 150 years.
We’ve just held Co-operatives Fortnight, our flagship marketing campaign, so recently we’ve been pulling together data for the Co-operative Economy Report, identifying new trends which might be of interest to the media – this year we led with the story that new co-ops are nearly twice as likely to survive their first five years as other businesses. We worked with Blake House Co-operative to create an inspirational film, which has had a reach of nearly 100,000 on social media to date.
Compelling digital content plays a key role in any communications plan so we are always looking for great case studies of innovative co-ops, striking photography, fascinating facts and inspiring film footage. Luckily our member co-ops are a great source of content – and with such a wide range of sectors and businesses there is always something to talk about.
What about your new role excites you most?
As a marketer I am excited about the opportunity for growth. The UK’s co-operative sector comprises more than 7,000 independent businesses with a combined turnover of £36bn, but this is still only a fraction of the overall UK economy, and a far smaller percentage than other countries such as Italy, France and Canada.
This presents an exciting opportunity to really grow the sector, with Co-operatives UK at the heart, as the organisation that unites the rich and varied range of co-op businesses together to speak with one voice.
Have you been involved in co-ops before?
I have spent the last 17 years working in the charity and non-profit sector, working to promote a range of causes from heart research to wildlife conservation, teaching children to cook and launching a world-class heritage and cultural destination, but I am new to the co-op sector. Or so I thought! At the start of my career I worked at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, which I have just learned is a co-op. Little did I know that 20 years after taking minutes at some very vocal AGMs, I would come full circle back into the co-op world.
What is Co-operatives UK’s co-operative difference?
We are in a unique position to act as a unifying force for the UK’s co-operative movement, as a whole and for individual sectors. When we work together we are at our strongest – proven by recent lobbying efforts alongside our farmer members which resulted in Defra announcing a £10m collaboration fund. As experts in co-operative advice we help members and non-members thrive by supporting with governance, HR, membership and financial advice.
What is the biggest challenge facing UK co-operatives?
From a marketing perspective, the biggest challenge is lack of awareness. We need to promote co-ops as a viable and ethical business model in schools, at universities and business schools. In one of my previous roles we taught children to cook as a way of encouraging lifelong healthy eating habits, and in the same vein we should be teaching young people and new entrepreneurs to develop businesses that give back to workers, communities and customers.
How could co-ops tell their stories more effectively?
There is a lot of jargon and I think we just need to keep things simple. Every co-op should have an ‘elevator pitch’, using everyday language to explain the purpose and values of their business. People are bombarded by information and if you really want to stand out, a clear brand and a few key facts (that really mean something!) can help to tell your story.
Where do you see the UK co-op movement in five years’ time?
We should be well on the way to achieving the aims of the National Co-op Development Strategy, with the Co-op Economy Report 2023 showing a larger market share for co-ops. I would love to see more cross-sector collaboration with co-ops supporting and procuring goods and services from other co-ops.
Which achievement are you proudest of?
I have been lucky enough in my working life to do lots of interesting things, including setting up the UK’s largest network of cooking clubs and being part of the successful re-opening of Britain’s last surviving cloth hall. I am excited about the part I can play in the co-operative movement.