Cwmpas: A new direction for the Wales Co-operative Centre

CEO Derek Walker talks us through the rebrand of development agency, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary

Wales Co-operative Centre was founded 40 years ago and now runs multi-million-pound projects that support co-operatives and social enterprises, and promote social and digital inclusion. As part of a major strategic review, the organisation has just launched a five-year strategy and a brand new look and feel, including a new name: Cwmpas.

Over the last 12 months, the organisation has been working with the New Economics Foundation (NEF) to develop the strategy.

“This process involved a lot of research, conversations and consultation with members, clients and employees,” says Derek Walker, Cwmpas CEO. “During this time it became clear our current name and branding weren’t working in the way we wanted them to. So we thought, well, it’s our 40th birthday year, we’ve done a big review, let’s follow what people are telling us. Let’s look at our branding.”

During the consultation, the organisation “tried to think about what we wanted to achieve over the next five years”. 

“We started very much with the ‘why?’ and then looked at the ‘what?’ – and that was really galvanizing for us,” says Mr Walker. “Why are we here? What do we want to achieve? We’re here because we believe in an economy and society that should work differently, putting people and planet first. So that’s our new vision statement on our strategy.” 

Underneath the statement, the organisation has three missions: creating a fairer, greener economy; building a more equal society; and making positive change happen. 

The rebrand is celebrated at Antur Stiniog, Blanua Ffestiniog

“Integral to all of this is being a co-operative, working co-operatively, and supporting the growth of co-operatives as we’ve always done,” says Mr Walker.

“It feels like the world and people’s needs are changing so rapidly. We’re not just delivering services that members want or that we think are good things, but we’re actually trying to change things within society much more boldly than we have done previously. There is also a greater policy and influencing role coming through this new strategy than we had before.”

Brand new brand

The organisation worked with Creo, a branding and design agency in Cardiff, to fulfil a very specific brief. 

“We were trying to meet a very complicated set of criteria,” says Catherine Evans, policy and communications manager. “Through focus groups with members and staff it was clear that people wanted a shorter name and one that reflected our Welsh heritage, but also something that would be easy for somebody who wasn’t a Welsh speaker. It couldn’t just be a random word, it had to be aligned to our values and what we’re delivering. The brief sounded perfectly straightforward when we set it out, but it was actually a really tough challenge.”

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This challenge was made even more complicated by completing the brief in a co-operative, collaborative way. “It was really important to us that we involved our members and our 100 plus staff team,” adds Ms Evans. “It was vital that everybody had an input in the discussion, fed back on all the ideas and could come up with their own ideas. Because of this, the outcome is really strong.”

She believes that Cwmpas meets all of the criteria. “It’s short. It is a Welsh word. It is something that someone who doesn’t live in Wales or speak Welsh can relate to.

Local beach artist Jon Foreman sculpting the new name

“We work with lots of very different clients. We don’t tell them what they should do or what their destination should be. We help them decide on that destination for themselves and help them get to where they want to be, whether that is setting up a new co-operative business or social enterprise, transitioning to employee ownership or doing something around digital transformation. So from the point of view of summing up what we do and how we do it, Cwmpas felt like the perfect fit. It’s not a direct Welsh translation of the word ‘compass’, but it does encapsulate all those ideas of scope and vision and journey.”

A new look for the future 

This is reflected in the organisation’s new logo, too. “We wanted something that was really confident and bold and different,” says Ms Evans. “It’s really distinctive, and almost looks like a stamp on something. We wanted something that felt like we were saying, ‘We’re Cwmpas, here we are, this is our mark, and we’re proud to use it.”

“We also really like the way the arrow looks in the C” says Mr Walker. “It’s almost a secret thing that you don’t automatically see, but which works with this sort of word.

He adds: “This is a significant change for us and we wanted to illustrate that we are an organisation that is confident and clear where it’s heading. We wanted a modern look, something that is different whilst recognising that we’re still a proud Welsh organisation and we’re still a proud co-operative organisation.”

The team knew they didn’t want to go with the heritage colours seen in a lot of Welsh businesses, and instead sought a colour palette that was “approachable and friendly and modern, but at the same time expert, professional and credible.”

Related: Wales Co-op Centre hails the creation of 200 social enterprises in two years

And although it’s not in the new one-word name itself, “co-operative will be front and centre of the new brand,” adds Mr Walker. “We will still be using the .coop domain and for our website address and on our email stems, and we will still be making it clear that we’re a co-operative development agency right throughout our branding.”

As part of the organisation’s birthday year, it has taken part in a Twitter takeover and launched an oral history project, collecting testimony from people who have been involved with the organization over the last 40 years. The Co-operatives Europe General Assembly, which Cwmpas was planning to host in May, is now taking place online, but the organisation is looking to host a conference in the autumn, run a competition with schools, and put together a film about its history. 

“We are also doing some work around tree planting in Wales to make sure that we’re leaving a sustainable legacy of our 40th year,” says Mr Walker.

“We have had an extraordinary amount of support for the changes, but being a co-operative, and being a co-operative development agency is extremely important to us and our members, and our members have made it very clear right throughout this process that changing the name doesn’t change that part of who we are.”

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