Ways Forward Conference will look for co-op solutions in chaotic world

Discussion in Manchester will range from union-co-op hybrids and the new municpalism of the Preston model to digital infrastructure and community housing

This year’s Ways Forward Conference brings together speakers ranging from leading lights of the UK co-op movement to those involved in efforts to create new economies in Rojava and Jackson, Mississippi.

Organisers of the event, held in Manchester on 5 April, say they want to explore the challenges posed by a future that looks “increasingly chaotic” and find ways “to create the next economy – co-operative, by the many, for the many”.

This year, organiser Co-operative Business Consultants (CBC) has partnered with the new Platform 6 Development Co-operative on the event. CBC hopes the conference will in future be organised by multiple partners.

Green MEP Molly Scott Cato will urge the co-op movement to rise to the challenges facing the world, while Shaun Fensom of the Digital Infrastructure Co-op will discuss the potential of co-operative ownership of production.

Ways Forward will also look at a number of initiatives which have attracted recent attention – including the new municipalism of the Preston model; platform co-ops and union co-ops; the Labour and Co-op Parties’ shared ambition to double the size of the co-operative economy; and the rise of autonomous housing co-ops and communities which are federating for power.

Workshops will cover practical subjects like housing, sociocratic governance and avoiding the problems that beset co-ops large and small. 

A pre-conference getting-to-know-you meal and social is being held at the Eighth Day Cafe on Thursday 4 April.

Cath Muller from CBC said: “I am really pleased that we’ve secured enough sponsorship for more than 20 free places.

“Making events like Ways Forward accessible to a wider range of people brings a wider range of perspectives, experience and knowledge. And it surely benefits new co-operators to make co-operative connections so they can access opportunities and resources for their own co-ops.”


9.45am: workshops

  • Co-operative & Community-Led Housing – Kevin Wan (North West Housing Services), Sarah Hughes (Red Coop), Jo Bird (CBC) and David Alcock (Anthony Collins Solicitors)
  • Sociocracy & Governance – Abbie Kempson (Unicorn Grocery)
  • The Challenges of the New Municipalism and Co-op Development – Gareth Nash (Preston Co-op Development Network and Co-operative & Mutual Solutions), Cllr Martin Judd (Oldham Council and Co-operative Councils Innovation Network), Grace Brown (CLES)
  • The New Lucas Plan & Co-operativising a Green New Deal – Ian Hewitt & Dave King (New Lucas Plan) and Matt Fawcett (Carbon Co-op)

10.40am: Morning plenary with keynote speakers

  • Where are we now? Molly Scott-Cato will set out the challenges that society faces and lay down the gauntlet for the co-op movement to rise to those challenges.  Molly is a Green Party MEP, economist and member of UK Society for Coop Studies advisory board
  • Climbing back up the Value Chain: Shaun Fensom (The Digital Infrastructure Co-operative and Save Our Bank) on how the Coop Movement can build more economic power and autonomy

12.25pm: workshops

  • Open Space – the hall will be available for extra participant-led discussions or presentations
  • Secondary co-operatives as financial enablers for housing – Ai Van Kok (Student Co-op Homes) and Aneaka Kellay (Alliance of Cornerstone, Castle Rockdove and Equinox) talk about how pooling resources means small co-ops of people on low incomes can manage to afford more property and help new co-ops succeed.
  • The Greater Manchester Co-operative Commission: Commissioners Shaun Fensom and Cllr Angeliki Stogia give an overview
  • Union Co-ops: Solving the problems of conversion and co-ops at scale: Pat Conaty (Wales Co-operative Centre, Co-operatives UK & Synergia Institute) and Cilla Ross (Co-operative College) present the concept and global examples of union co-ops and discuss their potential for the UK

1.20pm: lunchtime fringe

Sheffield Co-operative Development Group host a lunchtime fringe session with Paul Bell (Unison), Cheryl Barrott (SCDG and ChangeAGEnts) and Leslie Huckfield

2.20pm: workshops

  • Co-operatives as tools of liberation: Jo Taylor (Co-operation in Mesopotamia) hosts Sacajawea Hall (co-founder of Co-operation Jackson, Mississippi) and Huriye Semdin (general representative of Real Economy in Northern Syria for Aboriya Jin, Women’s Economy Committee) presenting and discussing their strategies and challenges via the internet.
  • Financing the new economy – Graham Mitchell of Platform 6 Development Co-op on crowd-sourcing money & knowledge, Jenni Lloyd of NESTA on their recent joint report with Co-operatives UK and Dil Green of Open Credit on co-ops as the backbone for a mutual credit network for the UK.
  • Co-operatives Unleashed: doubling the size of the co-op economy – Alex Bird (Consultancy.coop and Cardiff Institute of Co-operative Studies) and David Alcock (Anthony Collins Solicitors)
  • Why co-ops go wrong and what we might do about it – Bob Cannell (Co-operative Business Consultants & ex-Suma Wholefoods)

3.30 pm: Afternoon plenary

Mark Simmonds (chair, Co-op Development Forum for Co-operatives UK) gives an update on Co-operatives UK’s National Co-op Development Strategy

Martin Meteyard (CBC) hosts a panel of speakers giving reflections on the day and any key proposals they’ve identified, followed by general discussion – with Jo Bird – founding member of Olive Coop and CBC; Vivian Woodell – vice president, Midcounties Co-operative, founding member of The Phone Co-op and of the Phone Co-op Foundation for Innovation; and Mark Simmonds.

  • The event runs from 9.30-4.30 at Methodist Central Hall, Central Buildings, Oldham St, Manchester. Booking is required for the Thursday social, tickets are £10. Conference tickets are £60/individuals, £80/organisation reps. The Workers Co-op Solidarity Fund has provided six bursary places and some travel subsidy as well as general sponsorship. Other free places are still available for volunteers.