How has the last year been for UK co-ops?
I joined as CEO in January 2021 during the winter lockdown, which is why I launched my monthly CEO surgeries with members – initially virtually and now thankfully face to face. I’ve met so many people and had so many interesting conversations. It’s where I began to realise the impact of co-ops across the UK.
As our Co-op Economy report revealed, the co-op sector has proved resilient during the pandemic, with co-operatives four times less likely to have closed in 2020 than other types of business. And as I reported on Sky News back in July, for the sector to have grown by £1.1bn in the middle of a pandemic demonstrates the importance of communities when times are tough.
At Co-operatives UK we have had some good wins for the sector, with over £1m secured for co-op development, including £400k from the Co-op Bank to continue our support programme, The Hive. We launched the Ownership Hub programme to raise awareness of worker co-ops in South Yorkshire and have supported 17 community co-ops with £800k in matched investment through the community shares booster.
Our key policy wins have been in Scotland, and we worked hard to influence Scottish manifesto policies. We ended the year with a cross-party business debate on the role of co-operation in Westminster.
We’ve been developing our new strategy this year, which will include a brand refresh, organisational design, plans to relaunch our membership and advice packages, and a focus on key target markets.
What are your hopes for the future?
I am on a mission to spread the word about co-ops as a way to do better business and to seize the opportunity for new ways of working created by the pandemic.
This year I’ve been interviewed on Newsnight and Sky News, featured in the Big Issue Changemakers and Euclid Top 100 women in social enterprise list. Our work has been covered in the Daily Express, The Times, Pioneers Post and many other media outlets. But there is so much more to do. We want everyone to know what a co-op is, and to understand the benefits of membership, and we’re planning to work with members on a sector-wide communications plan and shared language.
We’re also connecting the campaigning activity of our members following on from the brilliant call to action laid out by Chris Packham at Congress in 2021. We’re amplifying our joint messages around the big issues – from climate change to diversity and inclusion. Through this we’ll reach a new audience of younger people.
Technology is pivotal to the advancement of humanity and, as Bertrand Russell said, “the only thing which will redeem mankind is co-operation”. As new technology begins to impact and disrupt every area of our lives, it is vital that its ownership and control is shared and not in the hands of a few individuals. Our vision is to influence the ethical ownership of technology and data, through supporting new platform co-ops and through influencing legislation on a national and eventually international scale. This will help to ensure that the transformational power of technology is utilised for a positive impact on society, to enable a fairer future for all.