If Co-operative News was to choose a theme for 2014, it would be grassroots co-operation.
This year has been dotted with hundreds of initiatives of community activism all in the name of co-operation (or working together). It just so happens that the co-op model has been the vehicle of choice to help people on their journey.
The year started on a low with the separation of the Co-operative Bank from the Co-operative Group becoming a reality. It was a severe blow to everyone in the movement.
But, if there is one good thing to come out of the Co-operative Group crisis, it is the strengthening of the co-operative activists’ voice. Yes, there has been immense displeasure over the attacks on governance and the change of the Group’s democracy – but even in the years before, many co-operators complained about the lack power and control they had.
It is yet to be seen if a 100-strong council can adequately control the direction of the business, and whether the dominance of professional directors will turn around the fortunes of the Group. But one thing for sure is that co-operators are stronger as a single force — and by working together as a single council this will hopefully cut out much of the bureaucracy and get things done.
Outside of the Group’s structure, activists and members joined together under the Ways Forward conference banner. Two events organised around the chaos of the Group united people under one voice for co-operation. In 2015, this voice will go forward as the conference organisers are focusing on co-operative development as a theme for the year.
And co-operative development has been fantastic in patches around the sector (it does need to be joined up, though). Community share issues are on an impressive upward curve – assets under threat are being bought by local people. There has also been a trickle of online share issues. In 2015 this will only get bigger and so will the need for community empowerment, which is bound to become more ambitious with bigger share issues.
To complement a co-operative eco-system in villages and towns, credit unions have received a boost in awareness this year.
Taking advantage of the negative press towards pay-day lenders, credit unions have been clearly positioned as the “people’s bank”. Government and the Church of England have got behind the need for local finance, run by the people for the people.
And so may this theme of grassroots co-operation continue in 2015. It is an ideal way to build the movement. By working together – both as people and co-operatives – we can be strengthened in so many ways.