Co-ops find a home at Hay Festival

It's true that Hay-on-Wye may be more famous for its bookstores than co-operatives — but the Movement does play its part in making the Hay Festival a success.

This is a town that’s open to the idea of co-operation and different ways of doing business — it is home to fewer than 1,500 people, but boasts four different co-operatives.

Among the Hay-on-Wye co-ops hoping to boost their sales when more than 80,000 festival goers arrive at the end of this month are arts co-operatives, The Hay Makers and the Wool and Willow Gallery.

The Hay Makers is a co-operative of more than 20 years standing. Its members — eight women and one man — share the costs and staffing responsibilities of a town centre gallery, with regular customers including Channel 4 newsman Jon Snow, who visits at festival time to stock up on the distinctive ties made by member Sue Forrest.

And some of the country’s leading co-operators will know the work of Hay Maker Pat Birks, who creates the plates presented to winners of the annual Co-operative Awards.

Other members specialise in furniture, pottery, textiles and art from recycled materials. The co-operative also hosts visiting exhibitions throughout the year.

Artists sharing costs and resources is also the thinking behind the Wool and Willow Gallery. Member Jenni Stuart-Anderson says it’s a vital resource.“As individual artists there’s no way we’d be able to afford the facilities and shop front that the co-operative provides,” she explains.

“We all take our turn to staff the shop and I certainly make a point of being there during festival week. Sales inevitably increase and we welcome visitors from all over the world.”

Hay and Brecon Farmers is an agricultural co-operative on the town’s Newport Street. Its origins date back to 1902 and the current Hay store, which opened in 1981, includes a garden centre and equestrian and clothing sections. 

While in Newport Street, festival goers can also visit the Co-operative Group’s supermarket. It’s also fitting that the festival also side-tracks from the traditional ‘book talks’ and does focus on retail and big business. Sir Stuart Rose, the man credited with Marks & Spencer’s revival, will give a talk entitled Business No Longer As Usual, which will consider whether big business can be truly sustainable. 

Continuing the business theme, the same day features former trade minister and CBI director general Lord Digby Jones, in conversation with Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation.

Festival director Jesse Norman, MP for the constituency of Hereford and South Herefordshire and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Employee Ownership, will lead a session in which economist Ha-Joon Chang will explore 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. 

And, as no event can escape the reaches of the Big Society, Mr Norman will also join a panel looking at the role of Volunteering and The Big Society. 

Marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Small Is Beautiful author EF Schumacher, Andrew Simms, Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas and Charlie McConnell of the Schumacher College will be asking if the message of the book is more relevant today than ever.

Throughout the festival there will be opportunities to support the festival’s international co-operative link Jump4Timbuktu. The organisation was founded in 2008 and is a fair trade partnership between Hay-on-Wye and its twin town of Timbuktu, Mali — and more specifically a co-operative of 59 artisan craft associations.  

The Tuareg craftspeople produce a range of silver and stone jewellery, which Jump4Timbuktu markets and sells in western markets. The fair trade price enables the them to support their families and build their business. Running alongside the main ten-day festival is a music and philosophy event, How The Light Gets In.

Fairtrade Foundation Director Harriet Lamb looks at the issue of food scarcity in two talks, The Famine and the Feast and The End of Abundance? while founder of the Conservative Co-operative Movement Jesse Norman returns for a talk on The Real Capitalism. Other speakers include Vince Cable, Lauren Booth and Mary Warnock.

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[This article was edited on May 13th (12.27pm) to reflect the fact that Peter Marks, Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group, is not a speaker at the festival.]

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