Co-operative leaders recognised by Queen’s Birthday Honours List

Lincolnshire CEO Ursula Lidbetter picks up an OBE and other gongs include an MBE for Frank Norris of the Co-op Academies Trust

This year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List featured six co-operative leaders – with Ursula Lidbetter, chief executive of the Lincolnshire Co-op, being given an OBE for her services to the local economy.

Born and raised in Lincoln, Ms Lidbetter joined the Lincolnshire Co-op 1985 as a graduate trainee. She became chief executive in 2004.

Under her leadership, the society started a partnership with the University of Lincoln to create the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park in 2012. The retailer is also regenerating the Cornhill Quarter in Lincoln’s city centre with a £70m restoration scheme.

Lincolnshire also runs a Community Champions scheme, which sees more than £500,000 shared with local good causes and charities each year, and the Community Cuppa initiative, which tackles social isolation.

In addition to her role at Lincolnshire, Ms Lidbetter is chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

“I’m proud to accept this honour for my work leading these two organisations,” she said. “Lincolnshire Co-op and the LEP are about people coming together to make life better in our communities, whether that’s through providing valued services or driving economic development.”

She added: “This accolade reflects the efforts of my colleagues, our members, our tenants, the local organisations and communities we work with. It’s great recognition for all that we achieve together.”

Set up in 2010, the Greater Lincolnshire LEP brings together the public and private sectors to create economic growth by developing strategies and investing government funds into key sectors of the local economy.

“Leading the LEP has been rewarding as we enable Greater Lincolnshire to work in a coherent way to help the economy thrive,” added Ms Lidbetter, who was awarded an MBE for services to businesses in Lincolnshire in 2012 and is deputy lieutenant of the county of Lincolnshire.

“Experts from a range of different sectors share their knowledge and expertise to unblock obstacles that might prevent our area from succeeding. We work across sectors and we come together to deliver.”

Also on the honours list, picking up an MBE, is Frank Norris, who has led the Co-op Academies Trust for the past six years. Mr Norris is stepping down from his position as director of the trust after leading its development into one of the most successful Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) in the country.

The trust operates 23 schools and colleges in some of the most economically challenged areas across the north of England. It helped to turn around schools that had been previously struggling.

Despite having the highest percentage of disadvantaged children of any MAT in the country, all the Co-op academies that have been inspected by Ofsted have been judged as ‘good’ or have improved significantly.

Currently the largest sponsor of academies in the country, the Co-op Group embarked on an expansion programme, which will see the number of academies it supports double to 40 by 2022.

A former senior HMI at Ofsted, Mr Norris said: “I am honoured to receive this award but is not just about me. I am surrounded by a team of committed individuals who believe that every student should be helped and encouraged to achieve their full potential. By providing a great education, Co-op Academies are changing the lives of thousands of young people.

“I am also fortunate to have had the full backing of the Co-op that sees its support for the Academies Trust an integral part of its community engagement because it understands the effect of a good school, which was previously failing or weak, is immense in regenerating communities.

“My wife and children have supported me in my career in so many ways. I will definitely be accepting the award on their behalf as well.”

Steve Murrells, CEO at the Co-op Group, said: “This award is fully deserved. Frank is an outstanding leader and he personifies Co-op values and acts as a fantastic role model not only for his thousands of students but his colleagues in the trust and all of us across the Co-op.”

Russell Gill, chair of the Co-op Academies Trust, said: “Frank’s passion for education and his support for young people from all backgrounds coupled with his impressive leadership skills means that the Co-op Academies Trust is now recognised as one of the best in the country.

“During his six years in charge the trust has grown from just six academies to 23 and he has established the foundations for its continued expansion and success.”

There was also an award for Greg Wall, leader in the Australian co-operative movement, who was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to business and the community.

A director and founding chair of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), Mr Wall has been involved with co-operative and mutuals businesses for four decades. He is the first Australian to be elected to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and made a presentation at the United Nations in New York for the launch of the International Year of Co-operatives.

Melina Morrison, chief executive of BCCM, said: “This is the first time such an award has been given to someone in the sector which underpinned the emergence of modern Australia. We are delighted it’s been given to BCCM’s director and founding chair.

“As a leader and advocate, Greg has ensured that the co-operative and mutual sector has received greater attention, not only in Australia but also internationally. Greg’s tireless work has helped to build a strong co-op sector in Australia and a national representative body that is working to help Australians utilise this powerful and intrinsically aspirational model of enterprise for community empowerment.

“This award marks a turning point as our sector is recognised for helping Australians realise their goals and building communities. With trust in corporations at an all time low, our profit-for-purpose model offers an all-important haven of accountability and ethical business. Co-operatives and mutuals put members and communities first and are not conflicted between shareholder or customer interests.”

In 2015 Mr Wall represented Australia during a trade mission to China where he signed a memorandum of understanding for ‘co-op to co-op’ trade within the Asia/Pacific region. He also advocated for a co-operative leader to be on the B20 leadership Group when the meeting was hosted by Australia in 2014. The movement was represented by Andrew Crane, chief executive of the CBH grain co-op.

The Queen’s Birthday Honours List also included Viviane Hooper Adamson, who was awarded an MBE for voluntary service to the credit union movement and the community in Newry and Banbridge, and John Mackin director of Credit Unions of Glasgow, who was awarded an MBE for services to credit unions in the UK. In addition to the CUs of Glasgow role, Mr Mackin was for several decades the chief executive of the Transport Credit Union based in Glasgow and is a former director of ABCUL.

Also on the list for services to his local community in West London, Grantley Yearwood was for many years the president of Plane Saver Credit Union. A former employee of British Airways, he joined the credit unions 26 years ago, being one of its earliest members.

He said: “Recognition from the people I’ve worked with or I’ve helped, that is all the recognition I need. Recognition for doing what I do, what I enjoy doing is fine, but I think there are a lot of people out there who are doing more who need to be recognised.”

Robert Kelly, ABCUL chief executive, said: “Everyone at ABCUL would like to extend many congratulations to John Mackin and Grantley Yearwood who were both awarded MBEs in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. John and Grantley have both been pivotal in leading the development of two of mainland Great Britain’s largest and most successful credit unions and have given tirelessly of their time not only to their own credit unions and their members but additionally through the leadership they have shown for the wider credit union movement and to our Association. They truly personify the co-operative values in action and this recognition is richly deserved.”