UKSCS conference to focus on co-operation among co-operatives

‘What does being a co-op mean in the new world and the new supply chain? What do you do in terms of procurement?’

The 2024 gathering of the UK Society for Co-operative Studies, on Fri 1 – Sat 2 March, is set to explore the sustainability of the co-operative ecosystem, and the role of secondary co-operatives and federations.

Speakers include Debbie Robinson, CEO of Central Co-op, which is hosting the event at its new premises in Lichfield, alongside a panel featuring representatives of FRTS, the procurement organisation which supports UK retail co-ops.

“In essence, what we’re looking at is the supply chain in terms of co-ops, as it’s no longer the case where you own the farms, you own the trucks and you sell those items in your shops,” says Mike Wistow, chair of UKSCS. “What does being a co-op mean in the new world and the new supply chain? What do you do in terms of procurement? And how do we work on the public perception of co-ops?”

The event will include study visits hosted by Central looking at how they use their different spaces, will also explore its apprenticeship system, and host a conference dinner on Friday.

The second keynote speech will come from Dr Anita Mangum, editor of the Journal of Co-operative Studies. The journal has recently received accreditation, which means articles published by academics will now go on their research profile.

“We’re anticipating this will give us greater academic input, and we hope that Anita’s keynote will encourage a host of new opportunities for people to contribute to the journal,” says Wistow. “Having said that, our recent edition on Robert Owen extended to twice its usual size because lots of people wanted to write for it.”

Additional speakers include Professor Tony Webster (on behalf of the Co-operative Research Network (CoRNet), Patrick Doyle (the Society for Co-operative Studies in Ireland), Lakshmi Jayan and Abilash Unny (Sree Narayana College, India / PWC LLP, UK), Sean Farmelo (Birmingham City University), Steve Graby (University of Leeds), Elisavet Mantzari (University of Birmingham) and Janette Hurst (Sheffield Hallam University)

Wistow acknowledges there has been a strong focus on retail in recent years (Lincolnshire Co-op hosted the 2023 event), which will diversify in the future. “We’re also recognising next year is the UN International Year of Co-operatives, so we will certainly be doing something around that.”

He adds: “I see the conference as a place where you bring co-operative theory and practice together. We’ve made sure to build in lots of space for different people – the academics and the practitioners – to talk to each and make things happen.”

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