Andrew joined the Co-op Group 10 years ago. He was appointed secretary of the Group’s National Member’s Council in December 2019.
How did you get involved in co-ops?
I first got involved with co-ops through the Co-op Bank when I was looking for a student bank account. I liked what it was doing with its ethical policy, it was something that was very attuned to me and my values. After university, when I was looking for employment, I saw the co-op sector as something that was again aligned with my personal values and principles and I was keen to get involved. I worked in local government briefly and liked that, but thought that co-operatives were both interesting and something that I could believe in.
When did you join the Co-op Group?
I joined the Co-op Group in the membership function in 2009. I was a democratic services office, running elections getting involved with our area committees and regional boards. It felt amazing to be part of an organisation that enables members to have a say in how the business is run, that is democratically controlled and owned by the members. To be in a role which helps to facilitate that felt genuinely worthwhile. I felt that in my own way I was making a difference and contributing to that member engagement. From the membership team I joined the National Member’s Council (NMC) as assistant secretary, and have just been appointed secretary. It’s a great opportunity to continue to be part of the team that pushes democracy – member control and member ownership – through the organisation and ensures that the Council is an influential core pillar of our democratic structure.
What have been the biggest challenges for the Council?
Initially it was the setup. With the governance reforms of 2014 we had a new democratic structure. The challenge was that it was new to the elected members, it was new to the team, and over the first few years we had to help the Council understand its roles and responsibilities and how it wanted to structure itself in a way that made it effective. The Co-op Compass, which we worked on with Co-operatives UK, helped a lot with this. The compass identifies four key themes and associated KPIs: member value; member voice; ethical and sustainable leadership; and co-operative leadership. The Senate also plays a big part in maintaining effectiveness, both as the coordinating body and the link between the NMC, the board, the executive and our members. There are 15 senate members, who are elected from the council, by the council.
As time has gone on, the challenge is more about the Council, effectively influencing the business – that has been one of the key areas of focus over the last the last few years.
What has the Council done over the last 12 months?
One of the key pieces of work was research into co-operative member education, training and information (CMETI). This work was initiated by the council in December 2018 to look at best practice, not just in the co-op sector, but in other member organisations too. The Council worked in collaboration with partners at the Co-operative College, Co-operatives UK and Co-operative Press to explore areas that we could learn from, such as community engagement and using digital in an agile way to reach a wider audience. That research is about to conclude, and will be used to inform what both the Council and the wider business is doing over the coming period.
During 2019 we also held large Join In Live events across the country. These are opportunities for members to hear what the organisation is doing and are led by council members, but are a real co-operative effort, with input from the communities team, the Join In team, the businesses, board and executive. This year we supported our Member Pioneer Team to pilot 20 local Join In Live events to test if there is an appetite for more local grassroots meetings. These were really well received.
The Council also reviewed its own effectiveness and highlighted a few areas to develop, including communication both within Council and to our members. On the back of this, we have been involved with our Join In platform (an online platform to engage with members and seek their views and input) and have been looking at how we can improve communications with our members – this seems a huge area of opportunity for us. We have started to ask members for their opinions on the matters that Council will be discussing; Council members are then able to raise these questions with the board – now we’re looking at how best to feed the responses back to members.
What will the next five years hold?
We want to continue to build on the effective relationships that we have developed with the board and executive, and really play a key part in shaping the future of our co-op. One of the key areas for council is around membership, and another is Member Pioneers. Council has been the champion of the Pioneer model, and that has been a real success over the last the last 12 months. There are now 600 pioneers, who are all making a real difference in the communities we serve, which is brilliant.