The highlights from 2014’s co-operative conferences

Ways Forward Conference 17 January, Manchester Using the future of the Co-operative Bank as a starting point, delegates at the Ways Forward conference discussed democracy, organic growth, governance...

Ways Forward Conference

17 January, Manchester

Using the future of the Co-operative Bank as a starting point, delegates at the Ways Forward conference discussed democracy, organic growth, governance and the future of co-operatives. Co-operators heard from Vivian Woodell (chief executive, the Phone Co-op), Dominic Hook (national officer, Unite), and Peter Couchman (chief executive, Plunkett Foundation), among others, who widely agreed that changes with the Co-operative Bank could prove to be an incentive for the whole movement.

UPDATE: The biggest achievement of the event was that it united co-operators. A second event took place in May, with the third conference scheduled for 23 January 2015.


Future Co-operatives Conference

24-26 January, Shropshire

Co-operatives must ‘work on their relationships’, according the Future Co-operatives conference, which led workshops on how to keep relationships between co-ops healthy, and looked at best practice from outside the movement. Midcounties, Ross Rowing Club and Woodcraft were among those sharing their experiences, from growing loyalty to increasing engagement among members, staff and youth.


National Retail Consumer Conference

21-23 February, Solihull

At NRCC 2014, delegates explored the consequences of the financial crisis for co-operatives, including the Co-operative Group and business-owned co-op Nisa. International points of view came from Eurocoop and the Union of Czech and Moravian Consumer Co-operatives, who emphasised the need to ‘get to know the customer’, while Professor Tim Lang, from City University London, encouraged co-operative retailers to actively promote healthy eating.


Abcul conference

7-9 March, Manchester

This year marked Abcul’s 50th anniversary – but, while a booklet was launched on the history of credit unions in Britain, discussions focused on today’s challenges. Tech adviser Mark Sievewright led a session on how credit unions can stay relevant in a digital age, and Dan Turnbull, head of building societies and mutuals at the Treasury, talked about how his team was looking at the barriers faced by credit union start-ups.

UPDATE: Economic secretary to the Treasury, Andrea Leadsom, launched a call for evidence on the future of the credit union sector, the outcome of which will be published in early 2015.


Worker Co-operative Weekend

2-4 May, Pulborough

The 2014 worker co-operative weekend brought together individuals who shared how they work together, trading and earning a living in a sustainable way. Different groups focused on topics such as basic financial literacy for co-op members; meeting facilitation skills; and strategic planning.


Co-operation: How?

28 June, Birmingham

Over 250 co-operators joined together at this year’s new-look Congress event, to develop a 12-month action plan for co-operatives. Two sessions looked at how the sector can tackle identity and participation, with delegates pitching ideas around the two themes. These pitches were voted on, with the wider co-operative movement pledging support to the top three from each session. The winning pitches were: Fair Tax Mark; the Co-operative Marque; digital campaigning; an alliance of co-operatives; a worker co-operative solidarity fund; and supporting student co-ops.


Confederation of Co-operative Housing

11-13 July, Manchester

Housing co-operatives met in Manchester to discuss the role the sector could play in providing affordable housing in the UK. A positive example came from Wales, where emphasis is being placed on the community housing mutual model, a system based on co-operative principles. Delegates also discussed community land trusts, while Rebecca Tunstall, professor of Housing Policy at the Centre of Housing Policy, University of York, spoke on how the financial crisis has left political parties, and society in general, more receptive to co-ops.


Supporters Summit 2014

26 July, London

Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation brought fans together to debate issues at the heart of the game. They expressed concern over FA plans for a new tier of clubs, and examined the role of supporters trusts and the future of co-operative club ownership. “Now could be the time for more clubs to become supporter-owned,” said Robin Osterley, chief executive of Supporters Direct.


Co-operative Group Special General Meeting

30 August, Manchester

Following a year of turmoil over – and reports into – governance at the Co-operative Group, elected representatives met in Manchester to vote on the future governance structure of the society. The single motion, which asked delegates to adopt the draft rules in substitution for and to the exclusion of the existing rules, was passed by 83% of delegates, which is more than the required two thirds. The proposed governance changes included a new board, council (that would act as guardian of the Group’s purpose, values and principles) and senate (that would act as a steering committee and form a channel between the council, the board, the executive and members).

UPDATE: The Group now has a transitional board and senate in place, with the regional boards becoming part of the council. Elections for the council will take place in May.


UK Society for Co-op Studies conference

26-27 September, Colchester

The UKSCS conference offered academics engaged in research and teaching the chance to share experiences and explore ideas with members, managers and activists. It was announced that the society’s journal was now available online, making it more accessible, while young co-operators looked at the best ways to engage with youth.

Prof Peter Somerville of Lincoln University and Pat Juby from Midcounties Co-operative also led a session examining different ways of promoting co-operation in higher education, including the possible creation of a co-operative university.


International Summit of Cooperatives

6-9 October, Quebec

Over 3,000 co-operative members, directors and executives from 93 countries came together at the second International Summit of Cooperatives to discuss the business of co-ops. Delegates agreed to grow co-operatives through a five-point plan, while co-ops were urged by youth leaders to commit funding, knowledge and resources to young and other marginalised people. It was also revealed that co-ops employ 250 million people worldwide.


Co-operative Party Annual Conference 2014

11-12 October, London

The ‘Co-operative difference’ was the theme at the Co-op Party conference, which saw delegates take part in debates on issues including energy and environment, women and equality, health, and local communities. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls also stated that “co-op principles will underpin the Labour Party’s proposals on health care, banking and energy reform”.


Students for Co-operation

31 October – 2 November, Edinburgh

Student co-operators met at the University of Edinburgh to discuss issues such as liberation and creating safe spaces through housing co-operatives. They also took a walking tour of the city, with visits to local co-operatives.


What else did co-ops get involved in this year?

Fair Trade Fortnight  |  24 February – 9 March
Organised by the Fairtrade Foundation to increase awareness of Fairtrade – a sector in which co-ops have a big part to play.

International Women’s Day  |  8 March
A celebration of the achievements of women worldwide, including those working in co-operatives – and co-operatives working for women.

Community Shops Fortnight  |  14-29 June
The Plunkett Foundation published a report showing the continuing growth of the community shop sector.

Co-operatives Fortnight  |  21 June – 5 July
Co-operatives joined together to celebrate and show customers old and new why co-ops are local, loved and trusted.

International Youth Day  |  12 August
Celebrating the young people at the forefront of co-operatives

Community Energy Fortnight  |  13-28 September
A Community Energy Coalition initiative which engaged and inspired people about the benefits of community energy.

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