A co-op offering hope to survivors of modern slavery is beginning the new year with a renewed sense of direction.
Bright Future Co-op, which helps fast-track victims of exploitation and forced labour into stable, high-quality employment, has just launched a three-year strategy designed to widen its reach and remit across the UK.
The pathway adopted by the board aims “to see survivors of modern slavery living in freedom with dignity.’ Its overall mission is ‘to provide safe, secure and stable employment that provides survivors with financial freedom, a sense of meaningful community and control back of their lives.”
Bright Future chair Peter Westall is also chief values officer for Midcounties Co-op, where he has worked for 30 years. He sees 2024 as a year of new beginnings for the co-op which he acknowledges could not have started out at a more difficult time.
“We launched as a registered co-op in June 2020, just two months into Covid, and it took the first two years to get us up and running,” he says. “The world was in lockdown and no-one was placing anyone whatsoever.”
The first couple of years were “simply about surviving and coming out of Covid”, he adds, with the organisation’s first priority being financial stability. “Now we have achieved stability we are in a position to go for growth and new beginnings. These are challenging but, we believe, achievable targets.
“Everybody connected with the board is a volunteer. All of this is being done by executives from big companies giving their time and taking positions of responsibility, using whatever skills they have. My role is to create that space for people to do what they do as professionals taking to professionals.”
The board, made up of referral partners working directly with survivors and business members offering supported placements and employment, has adopted five measures of success to achieve by January 2026.
These are: achieving 100 placements and 50 permanent roles during 2025; role opportunities during 2025 in at least five different sectors; to have 25 business members and 30 referral partners with board representation from each membership category; to be financially sustainable with contested board elections and to be an award–winning member of Co-operatives UK; and to have three partner organisations promoting Bright Future membership during 2025.
Other goals include raising awareness of opportunities for businesses to provide practical help for survivors and providing co-op solutions while being a leader in providing pathways to safe employment and offering survivors the right to access work with choice in that process.
The strategy was agreed at Bright Future’s recent AGM in London, the third since the co-op was launched but the first to be held in person. Delegates heard first-hand from a survivor of modern slavery as well as several referral and business members. Also contributing to the event was Causeway, the charity which has been reappointed to run the National Matching System at the heart of the co-op’s operations until April 2026.
Despite the challenges of recent years, the co-op continues to thrive. Audited accounts presented at the AGM showed a membership of 34 organisations, a surplus of some £20k and employment of survivors in construction, childcare, food production, food and non-food retail during the year.
“The AGM was a really positive day and a huge success,” says Westall. “We were able to take members through the new strategy and see the logic of the measures of success we are putting in place. It was also great to hear from a survivor, it really brought things to life.
“From a chair’s point of view, we have financial commitments and contracts we have signed. We need membership fees to enable us to honour those commitments so to have the support of so many businesses is hugely positive. The challenge was and is how do we make sure we pay our debts and keep the momentum going.”
Thanks to Bright Future, to date there are currently 84 survivors of modern slavery who have had placements across the UK. Their stories may be very different but all have had their lives transformed from often wretched circumstances.
Founding partners and business members Pilgrim’s UK are one of the many organisations which have been able to offer new hope to people. The leading pork producers and welfare farmers acknowledged the invaluable role played by Bright Future in a post on networking site LinkedIn to mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December.
“We’ve seen first-hand the transformative impact Bright Future can have, taking people who have been the victims of modern slavery and exploitation, equipping them with new work and language skills and watching them grow where they are appreciated,” read the post.
Bright Future Co-op also begins 2024 with a raft of new board members, including Amelia Woodley, ESG – environmental social and governance – director for Speedy Services and member of the All Party Parliament Group for ESG; Amy Bond of service provider Causeway, who oversees their service delivery and assurance, and modern slavery and criminal justice work; and Sharon Marsh of Medaille Trust – one of the referral partners working directly with survivors.
The roll call of new member organisations includes East of England Co-op (thanks to the efforts of CEO Doug Field and chief member and customer officer Oli Watts), fresh food manufacturers Bakkavor, who prepare products for major retailers like Asda and Morrisons and Speedy Services, who have only been members for a few weeks but have already placed their first survivor.
Just before Christmas, Heart of England Co-op agreed at a board meeting to become members with the support of CEO Ali Kurji and joint president Nick Matthews.
Westall is hopeful more co-op societies will sign up as 2024 progresses.
“We now have 35 organisations as members with four co-ops – Co-op Group, Midcounties, East of England and Heart of England – so we will keep going and we hope to sign up as many as possible,” he says.
“It’s well-documented that modern slavery is now far more prevalent and issues like county lines (a form of criminal activity where drugs are transported illegally from one area to another by children or vulnerable adults) have exacerbated the situation. And it is a sad fact many more UK nationals are now caught in a modern slavery trap.
“I have learnt so much in the last three years and at the end of our third year as a co-operative, it is pleasing to see how many businesses, particularly co-ops, have joined and supported Bright Future Co-op and recognised the co-operative way of doing business as exactly the right model.
“The three-year strategy puts the focus firmly on referral members, business members and survivors all working together democratically to provide safe secure and stable employment. It’s about making a heck of a difference to people’s lives, that magic word dignity, and taking control back of your life.”
For more information visit linkedin.com/company/bright-future-co-operative-limited or contact [email protected]