Conference 2018 – the youth perspective

Another Co-op Party Conference has come and gone, but we all left Bristol bursting with ideas and ambitions. Young people in particular were left with plenty to think about.


Co-operative Party Conference 2018, Bristol. © Natasha Hirst Photography

Brexit

As was expected, delegates had a lot to say on Brexit this year. Conference voted in favour of a public vote on the final terms of the deal, along with access to the single market and a potential extension to Article 50, should no agreement be reached by the looming March deadline. Our young delegates and members were keen to have their say in this debate, with many speaking from the conference floor. Zach Evans, a young delegate from Cardiff said:

“Many young people like me didn’t get the chance to vote in the referendum, but it’s us who will have to deal with its consequences. The Co-operative Party needs to ensure that we are at the heart of this conversation and that we all fight for a Brexit that protects and nurtures the younger generation and the generations yet to come.”

With the threat of a recession, uncertainties around opportunities to study in Europe and the unknown future of the world of work, Brexit is sure to have a profound impact on young people. The next year will be a vital one in securing the best possible deal, and young people need to ensure that our voices are heard loud and clear.

The role of young councillors

Our party has its roots in local activism and it was great to hear from so many young councillors working across the UK to strengthen cooperation and implement co-operative values in local communities. One young councillor, Joshua Jones, spoke about the vital role that local government has to play in doubling the size of the co-op economy:

“As councillors, we have a real opportunity to nurture local enterprises and encourage ethical business. Audits of local co-operatives can help facilitate collaboration and can allow councillors to uncover good examples of local co-operation. The importance of skills and training also can’t be underestimated – we should work to empower local entrepreneurs to start democratic, social-led businesses that hold co-operation as a central value.”

We now have a record number of young co-operators elected to local government across the UK, an opportunity for growth that cannot be ignored. Whether it’s the impact of the gig economy on young workers, the strengths of co-op schools or the breadth of co-operative activism happening on university campuses, young councillors are vitally important in spreading the word about our Party and the wider co-operative movement.

Co-operative housing

As the UK’s housing crisis persists, home ownership amongst young people has hugely declined, leaving most of us with private renting as our only feasible option.

Private renting doesn’t lend itself to collectivism and co-operation, at least not at first glance. Complaints about often dismal housing conditions are usually dealt with between an individual and a landlord, if they are dealt with at all. However, our youth network event on housing led to some really interesting discussions about private renter unions and the potential for more co-operation in the student housing sector.

We heard about Edinburgh’s student housing co-op, which focuses not only on democratic ownership, but also on a commitment to education and training, principles which are obviously of vital importance to students. We also heard from ACORN Bristol, a community-based union working to prevent unfair evictions, ban tenancy fees and provide a strong voice for private renters.

In a market as turbulent and unpredictable as housing, co-operation is needed more than ever before. Housing co-ops can provide a real opportunity for change, especially for ‘Generation Rent’.

The future is bright for young co-operators and we look forward to spending this year working on new and innovative co-op solutions. See you next year!