Co-ops have helped Scotland weather Covid-19, says report

'What we have seen throughout the last few months is co-ops rising to challenges and serving their communities'

A new report shows how the resilience of co-operatives in Scotland has helped communities through the Covid-19 pandemic – and could now support people to get back to work in the face of widespread redundancies and business crises.

Revive and thrive: Why co-ops are pivotal to a fairer, stronger Scotland shows the strength of the co-operative model, highlighting examples of how four Scottish co-ops continued to operate and serve their communities during lockdown and beyond.

The report, prepared for the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Co-operatives, sets out six recommendations for policy-makers to act on, now and after next May’s Holyrood election, to further develop the co-op sector in Scotland.

James Kelly MSP, convenor of the group, said: “The pandemic has affected us all and the co-operative sector is no exception to this. However, what we have seen throughout the last few months is co-ops rising to challenges and serving their communities.”

James Wright of Co-operatives UK, who wrote the report, said: “The crisis has shown a need for greater co-operation at all levels of Scottish society and the economy.  It has highlighted the need for people and businesses to work together more – and more efficiently- and the report highlights the success of Scottish co-ops rising to the challenge of helping Scots weather the coronavirus storm.”

West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, in Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, responded to a massive increase in residents’ demand for support with benefits, food parcels and hot meals. Before the pandemic, they would typically deliver 15-20 food parcels per month and this rose to around 600 per month.

Stephanie McPeake, community development coordinator, said the co-op, which has 644 properties, benefited during the pandemic from “a level of trust, built up over 30 years working in a small area”. She added: “We had that long-term relationship and experience – and a snapshot of what was going on in a particular block or stairwell.”

The Crunchy Carrot community shop in Dunbar, East Lothian, moved from delivering 60 weekly veg boxes before the pandemic to 350 during the early stages of lockdown, when the shop was closed and the business went delivery-only. Deliveries continued throughout, with customer requests maintained due to strong relationships with local suppliers.

Hannah Ewan of The Crunchy Carrot said: “We showed that local supply chains can be very responsive and work very well; we managed to supply pretty much everything due to our relationship with mills and farms.”The report also draws on evidence from Greencity Wholefoods (Glasgow) and West Highland Free Press (Skye). They also had to adopt new ways of working to support their communities through coronavirus disruption.  The lessons learned from this are set out in the report and form the basis of comprehensive recommendations for government action.

Mr Kelly praised all Scotland’s co-ops for rising to the challenge: “I wanted the report to capture a snapshot of co-ops during the pandemic, but also look how we can ensure the co-operative movement continues to flourish and supports an economic recovery from this crisis. I want MSPs of all parties to think carefully about how we can ensure better support for cooperatives from the Scottish Government and its agencies in the coming years.”

Mr Wright said the key recommendation was building on current support for co-ops to help people to use them to retain or replace livelihoods.

“We are heading into another very tough period, but the resilience and adaptability of co-ops can help people and communities in turn become more adaptable and resilient. We need to extend support for existing co-ops in Scotland, and look at the options for restarts and buyouts for failed businesses using the co-op model. This could be supported by specialist finance from the Scottish National Investment Bank.

“Co-operative ownership offers an alternative business model that can help replace lost opportunities.  This report sets out how this can be done with a detailed set of steps for policy-makers to follow that will revive Scotland’s economy and help it thrive in future.”

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