This was the seventh Future Co-operatives event. I have been to all but the first – but this was one of my favourites.
Co-operators from all different areas and businesses are getting together every year to concentrate on one topic. Discuss it, argue about it, agree with it and – most importantly – talk more about it in the bar. The overnight stay format of the event in a single hotel makes it more fun than most co-op events. You get to know fellow co-operators and really feel that you are part of a movement.
The co-op marque was discussed in 2010 – everyone agreed with the idea and Siôn Whellens’ vision of a marque to unite co-operatives finally became a reality last year when the International Co-operative Alliance put out tasked Calverts with designing one. This highlights that this is a conference that doesn’t just talk, it gets things done.
Hence why I so enjoyed this year’s event. The topic was ‘Relationship counselling for co-ops’ – it very much concentrated on engagement, and every speaker was very engaging. During the talks from Ben Reid (Midcounties Co-operative), Daran Brown (School Trends), Ian Howell (Ross Rowing Club) and the people from Cwm Harry, it was very apparent that in order to have a successful enterprise you need good leaders. The leaders can either come from the top or work their way up, but most importantly, they need to always be among everyone.
Richard Hadley, a psychologist, tried to explain the science behind engagement and concluded with the sentence ‘it is not self-interest that motivates us’. A sentence that Ben Reid could probably sign as the staff turnover was as low as 2% at at Midcounties – an organisation where staff are asked to volunteer for local charities and projects. However, a bit of self-interest is needed too, as Ian Howell showed. He evolved his local rowing club from an excuse to have a bar at the boathouse into a medal-winning club of a very high calibre. His enthusiasm and talent to get people involved should be an example to everyone.
He was also leading the last session where, in groups, we had to demonstrate without spoken words what we had learned over the weekend. The outcome was a great reflection of why I love the co-op movement and why co-op businesses are so great: team work, creativity, energy, eagerness and engagement.