blue bmw car in a dark room
Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

Undeniably, there is something quite pure about the co-operative organisation structure; its democratic ownership and distribution of benefits shared more equitably between its members whether consumers, workers or otherwise. But of course, co-operators know that the principles of co-operation transcend corporate structures and can flourish in other community dynamics and social relations between people. At its core, co-operation is authentic collaboration between fellow citizens within a culture of collective benefit, collective involvement, collective pride; shaped around shared endeavours.

This coveted co-operative culture has a rightful place in many social contexts, but it could have a particularly powerful role in community safety and criminal justice. In the West Midlands, the Police & Crime Commissioner’s Office recognises that the causes of crime are rarely driven by one factor. By failing to tackle the multiple causes, we risk high reoffending rates and more victimisation. Addictions may often be present, but so too may longer term social challenges around poverty, unemployment, poor mental health, abusive homes, homelessness and the extended list of life trials faced by too many. However, tackling these social barriers has often been marred by crushing austerity, government department silos, fragmentation of support services and cultural barriers to effective collaboration.

That’s why in the West Midlands we are so excited to be leading on or supporting others in pioneering new ways of bringing different agencies, community groups or organisations together to work more holistically and in a way that truly embodies co-operation.

First, we are seeking to establish problem solving courts – these propose bringing multiple partners together from children’s services to probation, so that the justice system isn’t just about retribution, but one that creates a shared responsibility between professionals to problem solve together the reasons behind, and solutions to, a person’s crime.

Secondly, we are pushing for a new era of collaboration to help rehabilitate people in the community. This would see those responsible for drug addiction treatment, community leaders delivering high quality and inclusive sports and arts activities and countless others who play a part in the tapestry of activities that steer people away from crime, move much closer together. With this greater integration of support activities or routes for diverting people who are on the wrong path, we have a brilliant opportunity to prevent crime and exploitation. Done well, this has the potential to make major strides in avoiding the signposting carousel, which sees vulnerable people being passed around support services, with no one taking responsibility, with agencies requiring the individual to navigate overly complex systems like Universal Credit. Instead, a more integrated offer inspires a co-operative culture less likely to pass the buck.

Finally, we are seeing burgeoning new partnerships witnessing organisations, including charities and initiatives aimed at empowering parents and communities in shared ownership models, come together to really tackle the multiple forms of poverty that hold our people back, and lead to issues like long term unemployment, homelessness and crime.

Our and our partners’ objectives here might not always be called co-operation, but for those spearheading these new collective ways of working, cooperation it is – it is beautiful to see.