AFTER a record-breaking year, Gloucester-based Co-operative Futures has set itself a challenge: to increase the co-operative share of business in the UK from two percent to twenty percent.
Addressing the annual general meeting in Swindon last week, executive director Jo White said: “We’ve had another bumper year.”
Co-operative Futures broke its previous best by helping set-up seventeen new co-operatives in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and the West Midlands during the last financial year.
The wide-ranging enterprises include Swindon’s creativity centre Lower Shaw Farm, which hosted the event, Raunds Community Festival, young people’s beauty business JooMo, Sustainable Boating Association Rope Ham, and Gloucester-based SUST – Service User Support Team – which helps drug users determine their own treatment programme.
Also congratulated at the AGM for its long-term success was Swindon Pulse Wholefoods, which is celebrating 35 years in business.
The year’s highlights for Co-operative Futures included a record attendance at its annual conference – where ‘the Big Society and co-operatives’ was discussed by delegates – and speaking to hundreds of public sector employees made redundant about becoming public service mutuals.
Since the recession more people have been looking to the co-operative model as sustainable way of doing business, the meeting heard. There has also been an increase in organisations exploring community shares as a method of raising finance.
This year, Co-operative Futures – a not-for-profit organisation – is ploughing last year’s surplus back into the business by expanding its staff team.
It has also been set a challenge by a delighted board of trustees: to make its paper, ‘From 2 to 20’, a reality.
‘From 2 to 20: a Proposed Co-operative Development Action Plan for the UK’ seeks to increase the share of Britain’s wealth delivered by co-operatives from two percent to twenty percent.
This means supporting the next Suma, Phone Co-op, Foster Care and The Co-operative retailer – major successes of the movement – as well as small, community-based businesses.
“If we really believe that co-operation is better for everyone, and we do believe that, then we need to be much more ambitious and we need to co-operate to make it happen,” said the report’s co-author, Jim Pettipher.
To support the assertions of the report, the meeting was told more about the recent collaborative phenomenon, Transition Towns.
Guest speaker Mark Simmonds, from Co-operatives UK working on the Making Local Food Work project, which supports community food enterprises, addressed the AGM about his work – mainly in the Transition Movement.
“This is the first viable viral movement since the Co-operative retailers. Big business would kill for the power of the transition brand,” he said.
The Transition Initiative consists of communities taking part in a social experiment on a worldwide scale.
These like-minded people are concerned with how an oil-reliant world will fare now fossil fuel stocks are in decline.
They believe in stronger communities with locally produced food, a strong local economy, good public transport links, green energy and a good local health service.
At the core of the movement are enterprises rooted in the local community. “The towns that are generating new businesses are the ones that really fly,” commented Mark, “and there is a real appetite for engaging with the co-operative movement.”
Since Totnes in 2006 – the first Transition Town in the UK – 190 have been set up nationally, including Gloucester, Stroud, Cheltenham, Minchinhampton, Cirencester and the Forest of Dean. Nearly 373 exist worldwide, with over 800 more in the process.
“I’d like to see some of the initiatives coming out of the transition towns here in thirty years time, sharing their sustainable model,” said Jo.
For more information about Co-operative Futures, or to start a business that is a co-operative, log on to www.futures.coop or ring 0845 4562 506.
For more information about Making Local Food Work and Transition Towns, visit www.makingfoodwork.co.uk and www.transitionnetwork.org