Interview: Simon Parkinson looks back on his time at the Co-op College

'Co-op education is well placed to go from strength to strength', says Mr Parkinson, who moves on from the post this year

Simon Parkinson is leaving his role as principal and chief executive of the Co-operative College to join the WEA (Workers’ Education Association). Here, he reflects on his five years at the College

You have been at the Co-operative College for nearly five years. What have been the biggest changes you have seen – at the College and the wider movement?

I hope that we have given the College a much more outward-looking focus and I think this is something I have started to see change in the wider movement as well. There are a broad range of co-operative, mutual and socially minded enterprises out there and we need to be connected to as many as possible.

The College has also developed a much stronger community focus in the UK and through our community projects we are spreading the work to the next generation of co-operators.

What have been your proudest moments?

My proudest moments are always with the team at the College, hearing about their work, watching them support each other and have a positive impact on the people we work with.  I feel privileged to have led the College, particularly in our centenary year and will feel proud at our centenary conference in November, when we bring co-operators together from around the world to share their stories. I think the College is moving in the right direction and if anything maybe we could have moved a bit quicker in the direction we are now on.

2019 is the College’s centenary year  – what will co-operative education look like in another 100 years?

Co-operative education is well placed to go from strength to strength. The global issues we face need co-operative responses and co-operative education is key to support groups of people to make a real difference. As the world of work changes with the escalation of AI (artificial intelligence) and automation there will be more of a need for people to develop, what to date have been referred to as “soft skills”.  

Empathy, resilience, problem solving, communication, collaboration and co-operation. These have always been at the heart of co-operative education and will be the necessary “hard skills” of the future.

What will you be doing next?

It was a difficult decision to leave the College, particularly when we are so close to gaining degree awarding powers as the next stage towards the UK’s first Co-operative University.

I will be joining the WEA as chief executive following the College’s Centenary Conference and Gala Dinner at the end of November. It’s an organisation with a proud history and an exciting future and one that’s right at the heart of the adult learning movement in the UK. Many of our communities are divided – one of the keys to reuniting them is community based adult learning.

Bringing people together in their communities to learn from and with each other is vital if we are to move forward as a society. I am looking forward to joining the great team at the WEA at the end of the year and hope that given the historic links between the WEA and the co-op movement, we can work together to support the communities we are all here to serve.

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