Co-operative members have held their first ‘co-operative cluster’ meeting meeting in south Manchester. The self-organised cluster, which aims to involve members in their local stores and in the Co-operative Group, is open to staff and customers at four Co-operative Food stores in Chorlton and Whalley Range.
The meeting above the Hardy Lane store, Chorlton, on 29 November was the first in a series of informal get-togethers set up by local members. Organised at short notice, it attracted around 20 people including four members of staff.
The cluster will meet again on 7 February. This time the Co-operative Group’s membership team, which is supportive of the initiative, will help publicise the event.
So far the cluster has been promoted by word of mouth, through notices in stores and via Springboard, a website set up by the Group’s Manchester area committee. Springboard aims to increase democracy in the Group, and has suggested store clusters could replace area committees in the forthcoming reorganisation of the Co-op’s democratic structure.
Shaun Fensom of Manchester area committee said: “The cluster is smaller than the old area committee. It’s on a human level.
“There’s a need to have a more local unit if members are going to have a say in what the co-operative does and what it sells. The cluster is breaking down barriers between customer members and employee members. It’s a dialogue between staff, customers and members. They all came out of the meeting feeling positive.”
On the agenda were the four local Co-op stores, other co-ops in the area, for example the Unicorn grocery, and local challenges and opportunities. The meeting agreed to follow up on its ideas, to promote the cluster as a way froward for the Group and to argue the importance of bringing together people who know each other and the stores.
Brenda Copnall, secretary of the South Manchester Co-operative Members Group, said: “We came out with a long list of ideas, which we will prioritise at the next meeting. Some we can work on straight away, others will take time or persuasion. We’ll promote them in the local member group and in the Manchester area committee, while it still exists.
“Ideas include shop staff and managers having more of a say in what they stock, to have a suggestion box and to use current members to help promote the shops, like when we do Fairtrade events. We’ve already put a suggestions box in the Wilbraham Road store. We did that straight away.”
She added that the four shops in the Chorlton and Whalley Range cluster already had a strong sense of identity, and that members of South Manchester members group from other parts of south Manchester now wanted their own clusters. According to Springboard, there is no cluster template, and different places could do things differently, but the aim is always to make a difference locally by acting locally, and not just pass ideas up to the council.
Mr Fensom said: “We think we can have a much more meaningful input into how the co-operative is run and how it fits into our community if we do it at a local level, involving people who use and work in the stores, and anyone else who’s interested. It’s not being organised by Co-operative Group management, although we think they’ll be interested to see what happens.
“We want to know whether members prefer this to the big formal member meetings in central Manchester, whether it’s a better way to make sure our voice is heard. If so, we’ll be pushing hard to get the Co-op to adopt this format when they decide what they’ll do to replace the area committees.”
- Springboard would like to hear the views of members, colleagues and elected members – visit www.springboard.coop.