2020 Q&A: Glenn Bowen

Director of enterprise at the Wales Co-operative Centre

 How was 2020 for the Wales Co-operative Centre?

Extremely challenging. Our co-ops and social enterprises have had to learn to adapt quickly and respond to regulatory changes within 24 hours. It has been tough but we have seen brilliant examples of co-ops changing their focus to help their community. A great example of this was Drive Taxi Co-op in Cardiff offering free rides to NHS staff during the first wave.

 How did WCC support Welsh co-ops during Covid-19?

 The first aim was to try and get the right information out in a way that was concise and understandable. We forget now, but most of us had never heard of the word “furlough” before March. We created a Covid-19 Hub on our website prior to the first lockdown, produced easy to follow factsheets with links to relevant websites and ran a series of webinars on furlough and the different funding streams that were made available. 

 What were the key challenges?

 Internally, it was changing the way we worked overnight. Within 24 hours we were all set up and working at home. A second challenge was being able to deliver our service virtually to our clients. Some clients struggled with technology initially, but we heard great examples of our colleagues talking people through the process of downloading WhatsApp and communicating that way. This was great for the co-op but also great for the individual who was then also to use that technology to contact their family. 

What were the key issues you campaigned for?

 Next year we have key elections in Wales to elect new Members of the Senedd, so we have been working hard to promote co-operative ideas to all political parties in Wales. We have developed 10 key policy asks, which include, a commitment to double the number of Welsh businesses that are owned by their employees and prioritisation of Community Health Co-ops.

 What have you been most proud of in 2020?

 As a co-op we can be very proud of the resilience showed by our team members. Without exception, everyone has gone the extra mile to support our clients to the best of their abilities. The true strength and determination of team members who have continued
to work whilst juggling extra caring responsibilities and adapting to a world wide pandemic makes you proud to be a part of the Wales Co-operative Centre Team.

 What are your plans for 2021? 

 We will continue to be responsive to the needs of our clients and continue to adapt our services. 2021 will continue to have challenges. Co-ops, like all businesses, need certainty and confidence to thrive – and with the unknown effects of Brexit and the need for ongoing Covid restrictions, confidence and certainty is likely to be in short supply. Hopefully in the second half of 2021 with the spread of the vaccine we will see businesses able to return to full time trading, consumer confidence return and an increase in the demand  for products and services from our co-ops and social enterprises. At the end of this crisis we cant afford to go back to business as usual, we have to learn from the last year and continue to adapt and innovate.