Rose Marley appointed Co-operatives UK chief executive

She is founding chief executive of SharpFutures and has worked with Andy Burnham and the Co-op Group

The UK co-operative movement has welcomed Rose Marley as the new chief executive of Co-operatives UK. She will be taking up the top role at the country’s apex body in January.

Ms Marley joins the organisation from Manchester-based SharpFutures, where she is currently founding chief executive. The social enterprise supports diverse, young talent into creative, digital and tech industries. She also worked with Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, to lead a pilot campaign improving local travel opportunities and raising aspiration for young people in Manchester, called OurPass.

She is currently chair of the Social Enterprise Advisory Group for the Greater Manchester combined Authority, an RSA Fellow as well as an advisory board member for SODA (School of Digital Arts), chaired by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle and executive producer of Red Production Company & CEO of StudioCanal UK, Nicola Shindler.

The appointment comes at a time when there is an appetite for different ways of doing business, with co-ops and other forms of social enterprise well-placed in the post-Covid economy. Co-ops are resilient, with new co-op start-ups nearly twice as likely to survive the first crucial five years as other types of business.

“I couldn’t be more excited about joining Co-operatives UK,” said Ms Marley. “There has never been a more important moment to harness the enthusiasm of a new generation for a fairer way of doing business.  

“The co-op movement has always been about disrupting the status quo, encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and others. In the past it was ensuring there was ‘no chalk in our flour’, now it is about digital platforms, or plastic in our environment or a gig economy that denies young people the stability and training they need to establish themselves in life.”

She believes that co-operatives have “an historic opportunity” to merge co-operative principles with digital technology to create the sustainable, equitable platforms that society needs.

“Over the past 20 years as a social entrepreneur I have worked to increase social mobility, give our young people meaningful employment, a start, a chance in life,” she added. “I look forward to bringing that same spirit and energy to enthusing the next generation of co-operators about the world-changing potential of the co-operative movement.” 

Among those congratulating Rose Marley was Paul Gerrard, campaigns manager at the Co-op Group, who tweeted: “What fabulous news as Rose Marley is appointed CEO of Co-operatives UK – she has a wealth of experience and will bring energy, innovation and a focus on the future just as co-ops are needed most. Welcome on board Rose!”

Ms Marley has worked closely with the Group over the years, most recently producing a community led YouTube Live event in lockdown which saw 100,000 people singing on their doorsteps with appearances from top musical artists, partnering with Manchester International Festival. 

James Alcock, CEO at the Plunkett Foundation (which supports and promotes rural community business, tweeted: “Congratulations and welcome Rose Marley. Myself and colleagues [at the] Plunkett Foundation look forward to meeting and working with you soon”

And there were messages from the international movement too. “Congratulations and a very warm welcome to Rose Marley,” said Icmif (the global trade association for co-operative and mutual insurers). “As Rose says there is ‘The world changing potential of the co-operative movement’ – we couldn’t agree more and look forward to working together.”

Rebecca Harvey, executive editor of Co-op News, said: “Huge congratulations and the warmest of welcomes to Rose Marley.

“Interestingly, this means four of the UK movement’s anchor co-operative organisations are led by women: Rose at Co-operatives UK, Dr Cilla Ross at the Co-operative College, Liv McIvor at the Co-operative Heritage Trust, and myself at Co-op News. I am very excited about the future of co-ops in this country and am looking forward to working alongside Rose to play our part in helping to build a better, fairer world.”

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said the appointment was “extremely astute”, adding: “I know from working closely with Rose that there is no-one better for this role. She is a true innovator and outstanding entrepreneur but also someone who cares deeply about re-investing in our people and our communities. She is the right person to show how cooperatives can deliver real answers to many of our 21st century problems.”

Chair of Co-operatives UK, Don Morris, also welcomed Ms Marley: “We are delighted to have Rose on board,” he said. “She brings a fresh approach to the challenges facing entrepreneurs, co-operatives, community business and social enterprise today. 

“In the same way that co-ops are often set up to disrupt mainstream business models – giving ownership and decision making powers to workers, customers and communities – we expect Rose to help us shake up the way that co-ops are perceived. 

“Yes, they are best known as high street convenience stores. But they are also tech companies, arts venues, freelancers working collectively, innovators, activists and much more. We think Rose will fit right in.”

Rose will remain a board member of SharpFutures and the chair of the Social Enterprise Advisory Group for Greater Manchester Combined Authority.