Q&As for 2022: Derek Walker, CEO, Wales Co-operative Centre

Coming highlights include the Co-ops Europe General Assembly and the development of a Welsh member-owned community bank

How was the past year for co-operation in Wales and what lies ahead?

Welshman Robert Owen was born in 1771 – 250 years ago – and the last 12 months have featured events to consider his legacy. Owen is undoubtedly one of Wales’s greatest political icons. Despite very few people in Wales having heard of him, the co-operative movement is alive and well in today’s Wales.

The co-operative difference has been very apparent during the pandemic across the UK, with co-operatives stepping up to take action in their local community. We have seen an impressive number of new start-up businesses and impressive performances from existing co-operatives.

The policy context for co-operatives continues to be positive. This year the new Welsh government made a further commitment in its programme for government to supporting co-operative and community led housing. From a standing start a few years ago, there are now more than 60 schemes moving forward across Wales. 

In October, the Senedd voted to back an employee ownership bill that would help workers buy out their employers’ businesses in times of crisis. Huw Irranca-Davies, Labour and Co-operative MS for Ogmore, introduced a motion to consider a Welsh ‘Marcora Law’, which would provide the legal framework, financial support and advice for workers to buy out all or part of a business facing closure or downsizing.

Welsh community renewables developer Egni Co-op has become the largest rooftop solar co-op in the UK. Egni has now installed 4.3MWp of solar capacity on eighty-eight sites across Wales – including solar sites in Amman Valley at Garnant Golf Club and Ysgol y Bedol. Surpluses help fund climate change education in schools. Egni’s current share offer is still open for investments from £50 and it has raised £4.38m to date of its £4.6m target. 

On a smaller scale, but just as impressive, is Menter Ty’n Llan Cyfyngedig. This new co-operative set up in March 2021 with the aim of re-opening their local pub and creating a new community space. The share offer was open for seven weeks and raised £464,800 from more than a thousand investors (the population of the village is 460). The group received the keys at the end of June and were able to open up in a temporary capacity over the summer. They rounded off a successful year by securing a grant from the UK government’s Community Ownership Fund. 

The team at Banc Cambria are still working to set up a community bank offering a full-banking service owned and controlled by its members. It is one of a number of community banks in development across the UK, who are learning from one another. We hope to be the first (demonstrating healthy competition as well as co-operation between co-operatives!) and are expecting to be able to make a significant announcement before the end of this year. 

Looking forward to 2022, it will be the Wales Co-operative Centre’s fortieth birthday. And what better way to celebrate than by hosting the Co-operatives Europe General Assembly in Wales for the first time. The General Assembly will take place in May, and we plan to organise a series of events alongside the meeting. Pandemic permitting, we are hoping to be welcoming guests from across the UK and Europe. 

So we hope to see you then!