End of year Q&A: Neil Calvert, principal of the Co-op College

'Our main focus continues to be on facilitating co-operative learning, in all its many and diverse forms'

How was last year for the Co-operative College?

2023 was another successful year for the Co-operative College, and also a significant one. As the first full year of our new strategy, it saw the whole team kept extremely busy throughout, making progress in all areas of our work.

Our main focus continues to be on facilitating co-operative learning, in all its many and diverse forms – online and in-person, formal and informal, within and outside the co-operative movement, at home and abroad. As well as continuing to deliver training for its National Members’ Council, our work with the Co-op Group has extended to include both the Senate and its Secretariat. Meanwhile, we have continued to increase the number of retail societies and other UK co-ops we work with, while also providing bespoke learning programmes for a wider audience of organisations including Academy trusts and the House of Commons Library.

International study visits have been a major area of growth, with co-operators travelling from as far afield as Malta, Nigeria, and Brazil to engage in learning programmes in the historically significant setting of Greater Manchester. Hosting a party of 53 learners from the Philippines was our most ambitious undertaking so far (although even this is set to be eclipsed by a larger group, staying for longer, in early 2024!). We are incredibly grateful for the support of partners including the Co-operative Heritage Trust, Co-ops UK, the Co-op Group and ICMIF, whose contributions to those visits are invaluable in creating an authentic, relevant learning experience for delegates. The year has also seen us working remotely with young co-operators in Eswatini, Colombia and Laos to provide training funded by DGRV, the German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Federation.

We have continued to work very closely with Central Co-op on the Our Malawi Partnership this year, introducing a ‘communities of practice’ approach to enable colleagues on the ground in Malawi to develop their own skills in facilitating learning and delivering training. Also putting the College on the map have been an event focussed on Principle 5 for the ICA’s consultation on Co-operative Identity, and the inaugural meeting of the Global Co-operative College Network, at which we were joined by sister organisations from across four continents.

What are your hopes for the future?

Looking ahead to 2024, everyone associated with the College is excited about the forthcoming launch of our partnership with the University of Dundee to deliver a Post-Graduate Certificate in Co-operative Leadership. With a pilot module set to begin teaching in the Spring, we expect to be recruiting to the full PGCert by the middle of the year. The choice of Dundee as the host for the ICA’s Annual Research Conference in June could not have come at a better time, and as an official partner we will be keen to encourage involvement from across the UK movement. We will also be introducing our new youth programme, following in the footsteps of Youth Co-operative Action (YCA), and we’re hopeful of again making a real difference to the lives of young people in some of the most disadvantaged communities both in the UK and worldwide.

Click here for more Q&As from our annual review

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