The Co-operative Recovery Partnership was created in response to the Covid-19 crisis – not only looking at how we can come together to recover from the heartbreak and tragedy of the past fifteen months, but how we can rebuild our broken economy, interrupted livelihoods and underfunded public services.
Announced at our local government conference in Autumn 2020, the partnership formally kicked off six months ago at the start of 2021. As well as a factfinding mission to identify examples of best practice, the Shadow Treasury team and Co-operative Party jointly hosted three roundtables and issued a call for evidence from our membership and movement.
The roundtables covered a wide diversity of topics, ideas and examples, with co-operatives and community organisations represented from across the whole country. We are very grateful for attendees’ time and expertise.
Roundtable one: High Streets and Community-led Local Economic Recovery
- Evie Copland, Chair of the Midsteeple Quarter, a community-led initiative breathing new life into Dumfries Town Centre through community ownership of high street shops and businesses.
- Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of Power to Change, an independent trust supporting community businesses in England to make places better.
- Hazel Tilley, co-founder of Granby Community Land Trust, who are creating a thriving, vibrant community in a neighbourhood of Liverpool that had been otherwise marked for demolition through affordable community-owned housing, public green spaces, supporting local businesses, a local market and jobs & training schemes.
- Wendy Hart and Hannah Slogget, founders and directors of Nudge Community Builders, who are regenerating Union Street in Plymouth through owning and running local buildings, and supporting the local community and businesses.
- Pippa Coutts, Policy and Development Manager at the Carnegie UK Trust, and author of a report on community asset ownership in towns.
- Cllr Joy Allen, Labour & Co-operative councillor and cabinet lead for Transformation, Culture and Tourism in Bishop Auckland, leading local identity and economic regeneration through their community-led Brighter Bishop approach.
- Cllr Tim Swift, Leader of the Labour Group on Calderdale council, which covers Hebden Bridge, an example of how community ownership can lead high street development.
- Keiran O’Neill, Labour & Co-operative candidate for MSP in Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, which includes his community of Possilpark which is developing a Community Improvement District.
- Paul Iseard, Stella Howe and Donna Bate from Portland Works, a community-owned affordable workspace in a former cutlery factory in Sheffield.
- Chris Tomlinson, founder of the Bike Foundry co-op and Matthew Cox, from the Stirchley Co-operative Development, co-operatively managed, sustainably constructed and affordable workspace, housing and co-operative business space near Birmingham
- Ricky Davies, from the Radcliffe Market Hall, a community benefit society, and Cllr Jane Black, Cabinet member for the Cultural Economy for Bury. Radcliffe Market Hall is a community-owned market which has helped transform an unloved space into a thriving centre of the community.
- Meleri Davies, Chief Officer of Partneriareth Ogwen, a community-led effort to develop the community and economy in North-West Wales, through managing community asset transfers and town centre properties.
Roundtable two: Co-operatives and a jobs-led recovery
- Rose Marley, CEO of Co-ops UK
- Deb Oxley, CEO of the Employee Ownership Association
- Glenn Bowen, Director of Enterprise at the Wales Co-operative Centre
- Sharon Lowrie, CEO of Be Caring, an employee-owned care provider in Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool
- Laura Mwamba, Director of Business Development and Innovation at Be Caring
- Neil Smith, Managing Director of Kinetic, an employee-owned company
- Stephen Gill, CEO and CTO of VME Co-operative – who recently transitioned to employee ownership
- Julia Houlston Clark, CEO of Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership – a co-operative social enterprise delivering training and developing social capital and community capacity
- Jo White, Executive Director at Co-operative Futures, providing business consultancy to co-operatives and community owned enterprises for over 20 years.
- Alison Scowen, Senior Public Affairs Manager at the Co-operative Group, leading on apprenticeships. The Co-operative Group recently pledged £500k to an apprenticeship drive for underrepresented young people.
Roundtable three: Co-operatives in a Green Recovery
- Emma Bridges, Chief Executive Officer of Community Energy England
- Afsheen Kabir Rashid MBE, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Repowering London and Chair of Community Energy England
- Amie Armillei, Member Owner at Suma Wholefoods and Co-operative Group National Council member. Suma specialise in sustainable, ethically produced goods, and are a worker-owned co-operative run on equal pay.
- Cllr Tom Hayes, Labour & Co-operative councillor on Oxford City Council and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford
- Cllr Rishi Madlani, Labour & Co-operative councillor in Camden, and executive member of SERA
- Dan McCallum, Co-founder of Awel Co-op, community owned windfarms, and Egni, community owned solar energy in Wales
- Jonathan Atkinson, a co-founder of Carbon Co-op, an energy services and advocacy co-operative that helps people and communities to make radical reductions in home carbon emissions.
- Aneaka Kellay, leads community engagement for the Carbon Co-op, helping to grow its 150 household members. She has over ten years’ experience in environmental organisations and co-operatives.
- Jim Lee, Development Manager at Energy4All, and a board member of Highland Community Energy
- Alun Evans, leads the Zero Waste Hub at Shrub Co-op, a co-operative in Edinburgh empowering the community to live a low carbon life and delivering innovative circular economy ideas.
- Andy Maybury, Project Manager at the Teviot Electric Car Club, a co-operative providing affordable by-the-hour self-service low carbon car hire.
- Sonia Sinanan, Operations Manager at the Ecological Land Co-operative, which develops affordable and low impact smallholdings for agriculture.
- Charlie Baker, red co-operative ltd, a worker owned retrofit and building design company based in Manchester. Charlie trained as an architect and is an expert in low carbon retrofit.
Reflecting on the contributions from members and wider co-operative movement, there were some clear themes in the submissions to the Partnership.
Many focused on the impact of the crisis on their own town centres and local communities. High rents, absent landlords, burdensome business rates and the impact of online retail giants were highlighted as key issues. But as well as highlighting the challenges that their local high streets were facing, submissions put forward a range of innovative and interesting ideas – reimagining vacant shops as space for co-working, as places to learn, as centres of employment and entrepreneurship with opportunities for apprenticeships and new co-operative development, as green spaces, pocket parks and greenhouses, shop fronts for co-operative care and fostering services.
There was strong support to bring in urgent global tax reforms to close the loopholes that allow multinational companies to get away with paying less than their fair share of taxes – helping to support local bricks and mortar shops by levelling out an uneven playing field.
There was a suggestion to create a co-operative industry scheme which would support unemployed electricians, plumbers and builders to convert empty properties and bring them back into use. Others came to the same conclusion from a different starting point, highlighting the need for co-operatives to equip themselves with the skills and expertise to retrofit homes and businesses to reduce our carbon footprint.
Some great examples were shared, such as the Homes for a Pound scheme in Liverpool which helped to regenerate Granby Street. In total more than 2,500 people have applied to be part of the Homes for a Pound scheme, which requires families to not sell their house for five years after buying it - one of a range of measures Liverpool City Council is using to bring a total of 6,000 empty houses back into use. This echoes the contributions from Hazel at Granby Street CLT who talked at our roundtable about the way in which the community have led the regeneration of her neighbourhood through community-owned housing, local markets and greening.
Another high street suggestion was to support small and micro businesses on high streets to join forces as co-operatives, pooling their resources and benefiting from being able to offer each other mutual guarantees to stay open even through hard times, as well as providing financial, legal, HR and marketing support. Models for mutual support were echoed throughout many submissions – co-operatives to support care staff, to provide back-office functions for self-employed workers, to enable smaller firms to take on apprentices together, in the construction industry and replacing exploitative employment agencies.
Others explored the role co-operative models can play in making the services we rely on more accountable and inclusive. Co-operative schools which give students, staff and parents a say, and instilling co-operative values in the curriculum. Public utilities operating in the public interest, rather than for private profit. Co-operative social housing models so that tenants and staff have a stake in their homes and workplace.
Finally, submissions kept coming back to the basics that we should all be able to take for granted – a roof over our heads, access to good quality, affordable food, a decent wage and rights in our workplaces. Basics like a post office, access to cash machines and educational opportunities. In the sixth richest economy on Earth, these things ought to be a given. Righting these wrongs — rebuilding common decency both into the very heart of our society and into the way we do politics — has to be a top priority to underpin everything else we do.
Alongside these ideas shared online and at roundtables, this collection of essays offers a deep dive into some of the issues raised and explores co-operative solutions to the challenges of our times. As we work to recover from the Covid-19 crisis, these ideas – grounded in lived experience and co-operative values – offer practical but radical ways to reshape our economy. By tapping into the power of communities, and empowering them to shape and own their own future rather than out of touch solutions dreamt up in distant corridors of powers, we can not only recover from the crisis but create something fairer, greener, more resilient and more innovative.