More than 100 people called for radical social change at the Radical Routes gathering in Leeds, 8-10 February.
Radical Routes encourages groups of individuals to set up housing and worker co-ops and provides them with guidelines and financial support to make their co-operative project come true.
The gathering brought together Radical Routes members and lifelong co-operators, as well as young people who were interested in finding out more about how to set up a co-op.
The event featured an introductory session for those aiming to know more about the network. Eleven new groups took part in the session, all considering joining Radical Routes.
“Radical Routes is the umbrella of these co-ops, or rather a co-op of co-ops looking for radical social change,” explained Radical Routes member Gemma Sayers from Random Camel Housing Co-op, who was leading the “New Co-ops” session.
Participants found out about the key principles guiding Radical Routes, which included democratic decision-making, mutual aid within the network, and opposition towards hierarchy and the capitalist system.
Radical Routes members establish a network of friendship, as well as a network of sharing experience explained Gemma Sales. She added being a Radical Routes member calls for a certain lifestyle, saying; “It takes a lot of commitment to be a member”.
Co-ops can choose to be associate or full-members. The main difference between associate and full members is the level of involvement, with associate members being able to assist, but unable to vote.
Radical Routes members also need to be involved in their community. Full-members need to spend at least 15 hours a week doing community work.
Before they join Radical Routes members can get the support they need from the network’s main support groups. These tackle issues such as: development, finance, children, legal, co-op support, rootstock and publicity.
When a co-op decides to join Radical Routes it receives a visit from the Radical Routes co-op support group that provides members with the appropriate guidance.
The co-op then attends three consecutive gatherings and holds a presentation at the third gathering, explaining its strategy and principles.
Associate members do not receive a visit from the Co-op Support group and only need to come to one gathering before joining. They do not have to commit to the 15 hours a week social change work, but they have to come to the gathering, present themselves and send the relevant information to the secretariat.
“Radical Routes wants to be open to everyone, but it also has its own culture,” said Claire from Dragonfly Housing Co-op in Oxford. She added that associate membership is not a route into full membership.
She explained how in some cases membership can be blocked, if the co-ops does not qualify or cannot prove it aims to work towards achieving social change.
The network is made up mainly of housing co-ops of various sizes, none with more than 17 members, a few workers co-ops and a couple of social centres. Full-members can apply for loans through Rootstock.
“In over 20 years of Radical Routes, no loans have failed – we are talking about between half and three quarters of million pounds to help people set up co-ops,” said Radical Routes member Andrew Martin.
Members taking part in the gathering said the meetings are a very important aspect on Radical Routes’ agenda.
”When we came to the first meeting we were amazed by the depth and knowledge of the people who attended the gathering;" said Leslie Barson from London Community Housing Co-op.
She explained how Radical Routes offered her co-op support and training, as well as financial help. This was the eight gathering she was attending. “It is a really valuable tool”, she said referring to the gathering. Members get to find out about the latest laws and also how these would impact on their co-op.
She said Radical Routes used to be a young-people organisation, but membership is now varied.
Radical Routes currently has 35 member co-ops, and around the same number of associate co-ops.
Four times a year, Radical Routes member and associate member co-ops get together at "gatherings". These weekend events have a social function, but are also the places at which important decisions are taken. They are open meetings and anyone is welcome to attend. The gathering took place at the Oblon, Woodhouse Community Centre.