Co-operative education in action

Co-operative education in action

What a great way to learn from the grassroots to directing the business.

Central Co-op's Membership & Community Councils came together for a two day networking event, with over 70 members taking part.

Our first day started by looking at our last 3 year plan and looking forward to the next few years. Below are blogs from Carol Warham from Yorkshire MCC with quotes from other members across the region and also Shaz Rahman from Western MCC.

Following the first day, we welcomed for the evening meal the Executives: Debbie Robinson, CEO, Andy Peake, Chief Commercial Officer, Sarah Dickens, Chief Member, Customer & People Officer and Paul Dennis, Chief Operations Officer.

We also welcomed representatives from the rest of the movement including: Rose Marley of Co-operatives UK, Liz McIvor from the Pioneers' Museum, Rebecca Harvey and Anca Voinea from Co-op Press and Jacqui Thomasen from the Co-operative College. It was important for the MCC members to meet and learn from the other networks that are important to us and how they all connect. Members also took advantage of a walking tour of the significant co-operative landmarks around Manchester.

Blog by Carol Warham, Yorkshire MCC

Members of the Membership & Community Councils came together to Celebrate their achievements over the last 3 years and then look at a new plan and ways forward. Although I’ve been a member of the Yorkshire MCC since it began some years ago, this was the first MCC Networking Event I have managed to attend. I had no idea what to expect from the two days.

As with any get-together, greeting people, and discovering where the tea and coffee was being served, was the number one priority on arrival.

Having found my MCC colleagues from Yorkshire, we settled down at the tables in the conference suite. As this was a networking event, we deliberately split ourselves around three tables.

It was immediately apparent how friendly and chatty everyone was. You can try and stop a Yorkshire person from talking! I think we were noticed!

A lovely lunch was served, with lots of choice, including Gluten Free.

After lunch, the event commenced with reports being read, from the other regions, outlining what had happened in the previous three years and what plans were being made for the next three. As I listened to these reports, I became aware of how short my report was and how small our Yorkshire group is compared to the others. There were so many things we haven’t manage to do, forming local interest groups being a significant one.

I have to say many thanks to those that came up to me later to say how much they had enjoyed the speech, and how I had made them smile. A few even commented on how much we had achieved considering how small a group we were.

After lunch Charlotte Castille gave an interesting review of a recent survey of members, and the research this had prompted. This was followed by an informative talk, from Simon, on membership and brand strategy.

 At this point, we broke into our different regions for a workshop and discussions on our potential future plans. The Yorkshire contingency deciding we would focus on working with youth in schools, talking particularly about budgeting, taxation and real-world costs. We also wanted to have workshops on employability skills, CV writing and help with interviews. Encouraging membership in new stores is a priority and engaging new colleagues into the values of the MCC groups.

We concluded our workshop with Neil’s phrase, which I think covered the whole of the two days.


Other comments from members across the region included:

Paul from Northern-“It was great to network with MCC colleagues from other areas and together develop ideas to continue to serve our communities within the budget.

My personal highlight was Andy Burnham's speech and how by working from the bottom up in a co-operative way we can achieve greater things”.

Hilary from Southern - "It is really good to have a proper opportunity to spend valuable time with our MCC members, to be able to support each other and have good discussions about how we see ourselves achieving all the fantastic events and opportunities we work so hard at and to be able to talk to more senior members of Central Co-op in a relaxed setting”. 

Richard – Vice-President - “It was great to meet fellow MCC members from across the society and learning about what activities they're running in their areas.

We also had an update on the society's recent member research and the overarching society strategy and were able to think about how this could be reflected in our work with members and in local communities”.

 Amanda from Western:

“Torrential rain could not have dampened our spirits in Manchester it was lovely to meet face to face with other members from across the regions to hear how they make a difference in their communities. It was appreciated that Membership and community is an integral part of the business that underpins our principles of business, and this was embedded with a visit to Rochdale the birthplace of the first co-operative founded in 1844”.

 Nicole from Eastern - “A fantastic opportunity to learn more about the amount of work that is covered across all our regions.  To be able to talk to other MCC members and share opinions and ways of working.  A particular highlight was the visit to the Pioneers’ Museum in Rochdale and to hear the story of the beginnings of Rochdale and how the pioneers fought for people’s rights and justice.  To hear about our forefathers like Robert Owen and others to understand our movement was a brilliant experience”.

 ANDY BURNHAM - After dinner speaker.

blog by Elaine Dean, President.

A Dinner to Remember 


As part of our Member & Community Councils' annual Learning and Development days we hold an evening dinner with a guest speaker and everyone dresses smartly.

I had booked our speaker some time ago but not told anyone in case it fell through due to his high profile, but it all came to fruition and my old friend Andy Burnham turned up to speak.
I should add that I have known him for 20 years since we were both on the board of Supporters Direct – he was Chair – fighting for fans to have more say in football clubs, better 'fit and proper person' tests and an independent regulator for football.

Before the afternoon ended I told our 70+ attendees who the speaker was and that most of the management executive would be joining us.

Secretary Andy Seddon and Chief Commercial Officer Andy Peake came down with me to meet him in reception (they are fans) so there were 3 Andys and myself in the lift !

After a brief introduction of the so-called 'King of the North' Andy stood and gave a brilliant speech without notes which lasted 20 minutes. The room was spellbound !

When I introduced him I did say I had never made any secret of wanting to see him as Leader of the Labour Party and had campaigned for him in 2010 and 2015 but it hadn't happened. I was amazed – and so was he – when the whole room burst into spontaneous applause at that !

He spoke about the great need for co-operation and co-operatives in today's broken Britain and spoke about some of the initiatives he has introduced into Manchester. Andy prefers being Mayor of Manchester rather than existing in 'the Westminster bubble' and feels he has more power to change things for the good and improve people's lives that way.

 He received prolonged applause and then answered a number of questions from the audience. After that he posed for photos with various groups of people before making his exit to another function. It is astounding to note he gets around 95 invitations to events every week ! We were very pleased he found time to come and talk to our group and as I said to them – he never forgets his friends.

Afterwards so many of our delegates came and thanked me, said how brilliant he was and how they wished he was running the country instead of just Manchester. One Tory voter told me he would vote for him if he was in that area.

Andy is a Labour and Co-operative Mayor of whom the movement can be very proud.

Blog by Shaz Rahman, Western MCC - on the second day.

Our second day was to visit the Pioneers' Museum in Rochdale where the members heard all about the beginnings and had workshops about the ways forward.

Membership and Community Council Networking event day two

On the second day of the MCC Networking event we visited the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. The majority of those participating, including myself, sat on a coach from our Manchester hotel to the museum. The museum is in 31 Toad Lane, where the Rochdale Pioneers started the British modern co-operative movement. The building has been kept in keeping with the original period features of the time the Co-operative was formed in 1844. 

We split up into two groups, with half of the attendees experiencing a talk about the Co-operative Building and the other half participating in a MCC workshop. My group undertook the MCC workshop first. In our workshop we talked about our regions expanding, which is very exciting for Central Co-op. Central Co-op stores are opening in new locations for us like in Greater Manchester and Merseyside. This does cause challenges for our MCC regions. How do we bring successful MCC activities to an ever increasing geographical area? How do we best support new members in areas where density of membership of Central Co-op is not yet established? 

We discussed ideas and lots of suggestions were made. These included to work with existing groups in these areas to gain knowledge of the local communities and support what is already going on, as well as focussing on digital activities. Digital activities are not bound by geographical location, allowing members to participate wherever they live. The notes from our sessions were collated and will be used as part of planning the next steps of the MCC strategy.

Once my group had finished our planning session, we swapped over with the other group. Our second activity involved us listening to a wonderful speech from one of the museum employees. She told us about the origins of the Rochdale Pioneers. In 1844 food was expensive and often tampered with. 28 men had the idea to try and do business a new way where members would buy into the co-operative for £1 and would access “unadulterated “food, of high quality. £1 was a big commitment in 1844. Member owners could buy staples like butter, sugar, flour and oatmeal. The Rochdale Pioneers raised £10 to rent the Toad Lane premises. Their attempts were met with disdain by other business owners who refused to work with them. This meant that to be able to buy stock to sell for the shop opening, the Pioneers had to walk to Manchester to be able to buy stock as local businesses refused to sell to them. Despite the difficulties the shop was a success and grew greatly.  The Pioneers established the Co-operative Values and Principles, which have been modified since, but are still in keeping with those written in 1844.

 After the talk finished we had the opportunity to explore the museum, that has co-operative artefacts and tells the rest of the story of the Rochdale Pioneers. It was great to round up our MCC Networking trip by learning about our co-operative history.