Enterprise Hub helps co-ops flourish

The benefits of a £5 million UK-wide investment in the co-operative sector are being felt across the UK as the nationwide roll-out of The Co-operative Enterprise Hub gathers...

Last spring, plans to promote the co-operative business model and give fledgling businesses access to appropriate advice, training and finance, were unveiled.

Since then, consumers, commentators and politicians have championed the co-operative approach, considering it ‘fashionable’, ‘in-vogue’ and even ‘cool’ to co-operate.

After seeing the damage done during the financial crisis to traditional capitalist business models, the Co-operative Group committed £5 million to help promote the sector.

Following a careful review of the challenges facing the UK economy and the co-operative sector, a pilot scheme for a support programme — known as The Co-operative Enterprise Hub — was launched.

Offering support, advice and training to new and existing co-operative enterprises, the Hub operates via a central website with a network of development professionals in regional hubs delivering the service.

A consultancy-led initiative, it represents a fundamental shift away from a former grants programme and signifies a serious commitment to the development of the sector.

With record levels of client satisfaction and the launch of more than 150 new co-operative businesses, the hub’s role in fostering business enterprise and energising a thriving co-operative sector quickly became established.

The successful pilot scheme paved the way for a series of regional launches of The Co-operative Enterprise Hub, starting in Wales, followed by the East of England and then the North West this month.

During 2010, this dedicated support service for co-operative enterprises will continue to roll out across the regions, sharing the same footprint as Regional Development Agencies (RDA).

There was a time when the sector was seen as ‘old fashioned’, or ‘small beer’, but with more than 11 million members belonging to some 5,000 UK co-operatives, the sector makes an invaluable contribution to the UK economy.

And, as the focus of UK business and society moves away from recession and looks towards recovery, The Co-operative Enterprise Hub is well-placed to play an integral part in establishing new co-operative start-ups.

The co-operative business model has, without doubt, an exciting and vital future in fostering UK business enterprise. And, it is no coincidence that the model is increasingly being viewed as a long-term solution to many of the challenges facing business and society.

Only now, after the events of the recent financial crisis highlighted deep flaws in economic and business practices, are people opening their eyes to the co-operative business model and debating its merits as a modern, effective and relevant way of doing business. The debate is welcomed. But more important than talk is action. The Co-operative Group’s commercial success during the financial crisis further reinforced the success of the business model. And the Group’s values, principals and reputation provided considerable strength at a time of reduced confidence in business.

That is why, together with policy-makers, we have a responsibility to spread the message about co-operatives and help people understand their potential as sustainable businesses. By putting our money where our mouth is, the practical and financial support offered through The Co-operative Enterprise Hub will help take the debate off the table and into reality.

By making co-operative solutions accessible to all, we will create a thriving, vibrant and sustainable sector that can go a long way to developing a more balanced UK economy.

For further information about The Co-operative Enterprise Hub, and its package of advice, training and finance to help new and existing co-operatives become more sustainable businesses ring Angela Davies — The Co-operative Group’s Co-operative Development Manager — on 0161 246 3020 or visit www.co-operative.coop/enterprisehub

• Michael Fairclough is The Co-operative Group’s Head of Community and Campaigns.

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