One thousand people embrace local co-op trade fair

One thousand people learned about co-operatives and social enterprise at a local trade fair in Coventry.

One thousand people learned about co-operatives and social enterprise at a local trade fair in Coventry.

The Social Enterprise and Co-operative Trade Fair connected 30 local businesses with the communities they serve at Broadgate Square  on Friday 14 September. The event marked not only the 30 years anniversary of Coventry and Warwickshire Co-operative Development Agency (CWCDA), but also the International Year of Co-operatives.

Visitors could buy beauty treatments, books, hand crafted jewellery and textiles, t-shirts, plants, work of arts or simply enjoy fair trade coffee, sandwiches and cakes at the pop up coffee.

Tamy Matanky, Strategic and Operations Manager at Coventry & Warwickshire Co-operative Development Agency, said: “We decided to hold this fair to mark not only our 30 anniversary, but also the International Year of Co-operatives. We have had fantastic response from the general public today, we have had continuous stream of people coming up and learning about co-operatives enterprises. We have been really pleased with the turnout it has been absolutely fantastic."

Present at the fair, Jo Dyke, Community and Membership Advisor for Heart of England retail co-operative, said the event was a success. People who came to the fair were interested in finding out more about co-ops and the Heart of England society. “I am surprised at the amount of people that have come out today to find out about co-ops. Obviously they have also learned about Heart of England.”

Jo Dyke

Experts provided free advice on energy saving, healthy eating and business advice. One of the most visited stalls was the one of Revolver Co-operative. Coventry residents were eager to buy fair trade chocolate and coffee and to find out more about Revolver Co-operative from local co-operators Richard Bickle and John Boyle.

Richard Bickle and John Boyle

The Coventry and Warwickshire Co-operative Development Agency has been supporting people living and working in the local area ever since 1982, helping on average 600 individuals a year to start social enterprises, creating jobs and developing employability programmes.

John Goodman, currently head of Policy and the Regions at Co-operatives UK helped to set up the CDA back in 1982. He said the agency was mainly set up to fight unemployment in the early days of the Thatcher government, when a lot of businesses were closing down.

John Goodman

Said Mr Goodman: “There were quite a few of us who were involved in worker and housing co-ops and we wanted to spread the word and at the same time there was a lot of unemployment. A lot of businesses were closing down and the Labour Party was running the metropolitan councils —the West Midlands County Council was led by some quite energetic politicians and had a programme of combating unemployment and agreed to fund and set up co-op development agencies, one of them in Coventry."

At first the agency was focused on helping unemployed people setting up businesses, working together with other development agencies. “We invented co-operative development agencies,” said Mr Goodman. He also explained how the agency diversified over the years and gradually expanded to Warwickshire, with a whole range of activities creating new businesses, creating jobs, building community organisations, boosting people’s confidence and wealth in the communities.

Mr Goodman also said the Co-operative Movement was not very dynamic 30 years ago, but that it has changed a lot, now being a “forward looking, dynamic and successful way of doing business”. However, Mr Goodman thinks the co-operative enterprise model is not as well-known as it should be.

“We still do have a problem of invisibility-and also misunderstandings people think that cooperatives are just shops just funerals, when actually there is a whole lot to the co-operative economy-housing, agriculture, energy as well as the traditional sectors.

“Part of our job at Co-operatives UK is to get the message out, raise awareness, and that is what in International Year is doing, that would give us a platform for the future to build on and invent new ways of doing things cooperatively,” he said.

John Boyle and John Goodman talking about coops

Tamy Matanky also said the CDA has diversified its activity over the past years: “Primarily we set up to help those workers that were being made redundant as a result of the decline in manufacturing, but since then we have seen a real burgeoning of all sorts of sectors getting involved in the cooperative and social enterprise sector, we currently have a lot of people in the care sector, credit unions and a real growth in renewable energy."

The Coventry and Warwickshire Co-operative Development Agency was set up in 1982, now being one of the largest co-operative development agencies in the country.

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