Engaging young members in the co-operative movement

In a session at the UK Society for Co-operative Studies annual conference, young members of the co-operative movement looked at the best ways to engage with youth. Kevin...

In a session at the UK Society for Co-operative Studies annual conference, young members of the co-operative movement looked at the best ways to engage with youth.

Kevin Bennett, head of membership at Chelmsford Star explained how in 2008 the society has set up a youth council with members between 15 and 22. This was an important development, he said, as in Essex 30% of people (420,000) are under 22.

By joining the council they learn about the co-op model, find out how to run and chair a meeting and gain public speaking skills. The council includes Chelmsford Star employees, pupils from three co-operative schools and any other interested young members under 22. The chair also represents the youth on the members’ council.

Young members between 16 and 22 currently account for 12% of the society’s membership. The council played an important role in promoting the society on social media. Young members of the council are also involved in community events, radio road shows, student fairs and promoting healthy eating. The rate signing new members has increased 75% and the society has also reached 1,000 likes on Facebook.

At the Co-operative Group the Young Members’ Board (CYMB) is examining how the retailer can appeal to more young people. The board comprises of 15 young people between 17 and 26 that had to go through a selection process. They meet every 6 weeks in Manchester, look at competitors try and compare.

One of their most important projects of this year is the NUS extra discount for students. Roselyn Xavier (22) represents the South East region on the young members’ board. She says the Co-operative Food discount is the most used discount by NUS cardholders, and that a key area of the project is looking at how to get these cardholders more aware of and engaged with the co-operative movement. The Young Members’ Board is also looking at developing a young drivers product for general insurance.

In the USA the Cooperative Youth Council conducts youth caucuses and provides toolkits at co-operative events. The council was set up in 2012 to provide a voice for young co-operators.

“The reason we didn’t go with other organisations is that we tried and were refused”, said Emily Lippold Cheney, founding member of the USACYC. The council’s staffing structure is to have contracts that rotate and can only be held by youth. Funding is one of the biggest challenge for the network, but this year they have secured USD $15,000 from CHS Inc, a Fortune 100 business owned by agricultural co-operatives.

While at university, Ms Cheney founded a housing co-operative system and after graduating went on be a manager of a student co-op in California. As well as being a member of the youth council, she also works with the Kris Olsen Traveling Cooperative Institute, an initiative of the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation designed to develop co-operatives among youth.

As a result of this collaboration, Ms Cheney travels to rural areas where people want to start co-ops and advise them on how to proceed. Youth this project she raised USD $15,000 from CHS and USD $5,000 in federal funding through the Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program.

Towards a co-operative university

At their annual conference in Essex, UKSCS delegates examined different ways of promoting co-operation within higher education, including creating a co-operative university. In a session led by Prof Peter Sommerville of Lincoln University and Pat Juby from Midcounties Co-operative, they looked at various options such as forming alliances with key universities and higher education colleges to deliver undergraduate and graduate courses on co-operatives or co-operative creating business schools within universities. Prof Sommerville thinks that forming a co-operative university could transform existing unequal relationships within universities. However, carrying out a project of this scale would require substantial funding. Another alternative would be to convert an existing university into a co-operative university. In this instance, there would be no legal impediments, but a great barrier is the lack of willingness of a university to be taken over.

Click here to read more from the UKSCS annual conference


  • This article was corrected on 25 September 2014. An earlier version included incorrect figures regarding NUS cardholder purchases at Co-operative Food stores.
In this article

Join the Conversation