Leading figures line up at Congress to champion the co-op movement

WIldlife presenter Chris Packham, TV actor Melissa Johns joined metro mayors and co-op leaders at this years event

TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham and Coronation Street star Melissa Johns joined metro mayors Andy Burnham and Dan Jarvis at today’s UK Co-op Congress.

The flagship conference for the UK sector, organised by apex body Co-operatives UK, saw Springwatch host and environmental campaigner Chris Packham deliver his recipe for positive social change in the post-Covid world. 

Praising the staff at his local co-op store in Ashurst for their resilience during the pandemic and recalling fondly childhood visits to The Co-op with his mother, Mr Packham urged the audience never to forget that “co-operatives have a great history of social campaigning”.

He explored the importance of successful campaigning, highlighting a number of tangible co-op achievements – including the development of the first compostable plastic bag, tackling violence against shop workers during the pandemic, and encouraging diversity in leadership. 

Joining him was actor and founder of social enterprise Triple C and DANC, Melissa Johns, who is committed to raising the profile of disabled actors on screen. She chaired a panel of female co-operative leaders who explored ways to raise the profile of co-ops to the general public. 

She said: “As a member of a co-op, any type of co-op – because you know co-ops are not just shops – you are a co-owner. So these membership cards are pretty powerful. Once you know the secret, you might want to join a co-op too.”

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells joined a panel of young people to discuss the importance of engaging the next generation in co-operative business. They launched a Young People’s Summit in the autumn, funded by the Co-operative Bank, inviting young people from across the UK to share their views.

Sheffield mayor Dan Jarvis outlined his plans to help more businesses hand control to their employees and encourage the formation of more worker run co-ops as part of their economic recovery and renewal plans. The city region is the first to open an Ownership Hub under a national programme from Co-operatives UK and the Employee Ownership Association.

Mr Jarvis said: “When I look for inspiration, it is not just to the deep roots of the co-operative movement in our own region, but to Finland, where more than 80% of people are members of at least one cooperative, and to New Zealand, where they account for 20% of the economy. 

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operative UK, said: “Congress has been the ‘parliament’ for co-ops for the last 150 years but it’s time to reinvigorate the programme and make it more meaningful for people’s lives today. By sharing the decision making power and distributing the wealth with their members co- ops really do offer a fairer way to do business

“I’m delighted we’ve had such high profile speakers here today and it demonstrates this movement really is making a comeback.”