Engaging young people in co-operatives is a challenge, Keith Grinsted, member relations officer for Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society, told delegates at a Co-operatives United workshop. But Chelmsford Star, a small independent society with 39 food stores and six funeral offices, has a youth engagement programme that works.
This Essex-based co-op has developed an extensive schools programme and a youth council, the chair of which sits on the members’ council and feeds ideas right to the top.
Mr Grinstred said: ‘When I started we’d go into a primary school, talk about fair trade, give away some chocolate and that was it. There was no development of ideas. I felt we were being used to fill a slot.
‘It’s no good doing a one off thing and expecting the message to get across. You have to work with schools, starting with primary schools and reinforce the co-operative message to young people. It doesn’t happen overnight.’
In primary schools the co-op focuses on topics like healthy eating and ‘love food, hate waste.’ With older children the programme includes CV workshops, mock interviews, dragon’s den events and youth enterprise activities.
Chelmsford Star works closely with co-operative trust schools St Clere’s School and the Anglo-European School, holding co-operative days and events and even introducing a credit union into St Clere’s. ‘The young people are learning how to save and look after their finances,’ says Mr Grinsted. ‘They’ve been trained to run a credit union.’
The youth council brings together members from St Clare’s, AES, staff and the wider membership. They meet twice a term and receive in-house training, using ‘From conflict to co-operation’ and ‘Simply Start-up’, free resources from Co-operatives UK, as workbooks.
‘The aim is to get them to understand about the society, the way its run, the finances,’ says Mr Grinsted. ‘Young people need to be respected. We want to work with them. We want to find out what we need to do to get more young people to become members.’
The aim is that young people share decision making with adults. ‘We’ve providing a vision to young people,’ he says. ‘We’re motivating them to better things, hopefully leading by example. We’ve got people coming out of the system who are focussed and engaging with their co-operatives.’