The Co-op Foundation: Building support for young people

‘Our new direction will see us fund individuals and organisations that will create future communities that are fair and built on co-operative values’

The Co-op Foundation is the charity of the UK’s Co-op Group, helping to make the organisation’s vision of ‘Co-operating for a Fairer World’ a reality. One aspect of this is its work supporting young people – the Foundation has awarded more than £7m in grants to tackle issues that young people have told them are important, such as loneliness and mental wellbeing. Ahead of International Youth Day (12 August), CEO Nick Crofts, tells us why young people are central to the Foundation’s new strategy and vision, due to be released this autumn. 

Hi Nick, can you tell us a bit about Co-op Foundation?

Hi, it’s lovely to talk to Co-op News! I’ve been at the Co-op Foundation for just over 18 months, and the time has really flown by. For those of you who may not know, we’re the Co-operative Group’s charity and we provide flexible funding to build fairer and more co-operative communities. Over the past year and a half this has included: providing our largest single grant to date, £250k to Refugee Action; awarding £1.3m to projects tackling carbon emissions through the Carbon Innovation Fund; and launching a new £700k partnership with the Astra Foundation to help strengthen the youth sector. 

So, it’s been quite a year of grant giving. Prior to this, readers may remember me as the Co-op Group’s Member Council president, which I was proud to serve as for six years. 

How have you found your time at the Co-op Foundation so far? 

It’s been a whirlwind, but a really fun one. I wasn’t a grant maker by trade when I arrived, so I’ve had to learn a lot and I’d like to thank my colleagues for everything they’ve done to get me up to speed. But we’ve done so much more than just deliver grants.  

The Foundation works with Greater Manchester Youth Network

Over the past 18 months, new expertise has come into our team, we’ve redefined what it means to be a funder with a co-operative difference, and we’ve thought long and hard about how that relates to our internal culture, too. 

But, most excitingly, we’ve also been building a new strategy with co-operation and youth voice right at the heart. 

What is the new strategy all about? 

We started working on this in July 2021 with our partners at Impact Works Associates and it’s been a truly co-operative exercise. We’ve collaborated with Foundation colleagues, trustees, funded partners and Co-operative Group leaders to imagine how we can best deliver on the Co-op Group’s vision of ‘Co-operating for a Fairer World’.   

I’m really excited that our new direction will see us fund individuals and organisations that will create future communities in 10 years’ time that are fair and built on co-operative values. 

It’s bold and it’s brave, but there’s another layer. We recognise that today’s young people will be the ones who will inherit the communities we hope to build. So, we’ve been asking them what our future vision should be, and how we can turn it into reality. 

How have young people had their say? 

Through focus groups and chats on WhatsApp. We held 10 focus groups in total, both online and in-person. The first four focus groups were open discussions where young people imagined their future communities. We then delved more deeply into the topics young people said really mattered in the remaining sessions and through message prompts on WhatsApp. Importantly, we compensated young people for their time with bursaries. Their insight is helping us, after all. 

What have you learned, and what will this mean for the Foundation? 

We learned so much and I’m humbled by the amazing insight from all our participants. 

Young people told us they want to inherit strong communities that celebrate and value diversity, equity and inclusion, and where people work together to tackle local challenges.   

The Foundation runs youth projects with partners such as Envision

They also want sustainable communities full of green spaces, where infrastructure enables green living and environmentally friendly practices are supported by government and implemented by businesses.  

They want fair communities, where they have income stability, affordable homes and opportunities to learn and work, and they want healthy and safe communities where people work together to protect well-being. And finally, young people want us to build future communities where they will have voice, power and influence to share their co-operative vision. 

We’re going to take this learning and build it into our future work plans. We’ll also share our vision and report with other funders and charities to support their work, too. That’s the power of co-operation. 

Sounds exciting. What’s next? 

We’re looking to launch our new strategy and first fund this autumn. Co-op News readers can find out more by signing up to our blog and following us on Twitter. We’d love to hear people’s thoughts as well, so don’t be shy. Email us at [email protected] if you have any questions about our work.