This weekend saw hundreds of Co-operators from around the UK unite at Co-operatives UK annual Congress. I am honoured to be one of many delegations from Central England Co-operative, and this is my account of the main day on Saturday.
This year Congress was held in Manchester, a mere 14 miles from the birthplace of Co-operation in Rochdale 175 years ago. The day started with an opening welcome from Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK. Ed spoke how proud he is to represent the supporting body of Co-operative organisations in the UK and how Co-operators can 'Build Co-operative Places' by supporting each other and working together.
After the opening welcome from Ed, we moved into sessions. The first session was 'Leading the way for a fairer economy'. The panel discussed how Co-ops can lead on this in uncertain times and how we can change behaviours from the point of view as Co-operatives to support the Co-operative economy and build this sector for a fairer future for everyone. It was also noted that in these uncertian times we need to ensure that Co-operatives are about commercial success leading to a fairer economy.
Most of the nations economy is built upon private benefit for the few, whereas the Co-operative economy is about working together to build a brighter future for all, building Co-operative benefit and working together, Solidarity! Principle 6 in action.
After a short networking break, smaller workshop sessions were held with differing topics, I chose to attend 'Communities in Charge'. This session discussed the benefit of communities coming together for a common cause, and Co-operatives supporting this. It was discussed that deprived areas of our communities could be given the tools to help themselves and their community to work together for a common goal, this could be a community pub, community centre or even a shop. Working together could help support prosperity, as the community would work together to feel the benefit. With the right resource and support, the community could apply for some funding and they would control their budget and set their own controls and ultimately set their own accountability and be more responsible for the results.
It was a very thought provoking session that opened my eyes as to how working with local communities on issues that are close to their heart could ultimately support them into prosperity.
The next session I chose to attend was 'How community Co-ops are making a real impact locally'. The audience heard from a Community Book Shop, Project MCR (community skateboard facility) and Leeds Community Homes. all these organisations are local Co-operative organisations.
The organisations spoke about how involving the community in the business model has helped maintain and run it, with a real passion from the community to keep it on track and improve it. The empowerment of engaging with the whole community helps with keeping the business relevant and open to all, for example Project MCR created a Skate Park in a safe place for the community but it was very much a male dominated environment. To combat this they engaged with all users to find out why this was as they only had around 2% of female users. after talking and coming up with ideas and special female only sessions, they now have over 20% female users taking part.
We then moved into a networking lunch where I spent some time talking to exhibitors from the Co-opertaive sector, these included; The Co-operative Bank, Co-operative and Community Finance, Co-op News, The Co-operative Party, Creative Co-op who has designed all the artwork for Congress materials, The Co-operative College and Fair Tax. It was great interacting with so many co-operators from the sector and learning all the activity that is taking place out in the Co-operative world.
After the networking lunch I went to the next workshop on offer which was 'How do we reconnect to communities'. In this workshop it was discussed how we can reconnect to the communities we serve as Co-operatives and Co-operators. in this session we also broke into groups to discuss this. The group I was in talked how we should campaign for more Co-operative Business Studies on the school curriculum to support a different was of business as well as learning. A thoroughly thought provoking session.
The last session of the day saw our very own Central England Co-operative Member and Community Relations Officer Tanya Noon join the panal discussing ' Educating the next generation of Co-operators'. Panal spoke about how connecting with youth to promote the Co-operative message is essential to ensure we as a movement continue to grow. Tanya spoke about the Central England Co-operative Masterclass, and how this gives young people an insight into Co-operative Business Studdies, which is lacking from the current education curriculum.
All in all a very thought provoking day with lots to think about and reflect on. well done to Co-operatives UK on such a fantastic well run event.