Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Andrew Hibbert

Today in our series of conversations with people who’ve been part of ICOF over the last fifty years, we speak to Andrew Hibbert.

Andrew was involved with ICFO from the mid 1990s to 2008, first as a Board member and then from 1998, in employment as our Loans Officer. Andrew then became our Development Manager, a role he held until 2008. Andrew crossed over with our current Operations and FCA Compliance Manager Alain Demontoux, and passed on the Development baton to Ian Rothwell. Here Andrew looks back on those years, and the connections made.

“It was an interesting time really, we never really had a development person before but when New Labour came into office, they came up with an awful lot of development initiatives which we felt we needed to be part of. I was particularly keen to move us closer to the rest of the broader Co-op movement. We were just supporting worker coops at the start, but our sister organisation ICOM, the Industrial Common Ownership Movement, merged with the Co-operative Union, which became Co-operatives UK, and that left me feeling we were a bit exposed. I steered us towards them, and the Co-op Bank and the Co-operative Group to try and work with them because they were taking on board the broader co-op picture. In some ways, all I did was put myself about and talk to different people. I introduced myself to the organisations above, to Plunkett, Big Issue Invest and other organisations in the space and just opened conversations with them. It felt like the time was right to work together.

Through those conversations, I helped set up the Co-operative Loan Fund, which was pretty successful. And then I worked with the Plunkett Foundation to set up the loans for village shops, which also went on to be the loans for village pubs. The idea was that Plunkett would with deal the grant side of it, and we do the loans and financial appraisal, subject to the actual villagers raising some finance themselves from equity finance. And I’m really quite proud of that really. Those two programmes were quite successful things and they were very much with the broader co-op movement, and they made us a bit stronger. They enabled us to earn a living, because it’s actually very difficult to earn a living just from lending – that’s why the banks don’t do a lot of lending at risk. And then this meant that we had proper separate income streams. We were able to use our strength at managing loans by offering additional services, doing the back office work and managing other people’s funds.

I remember one loan quite vividly. It was in the village of Titchmarsh in Northamptonshire, and inevitably, they invited Alan Titchmarsh to do the opening. He said yes, and came and he was truly excellent. He gave it the full three hours and was really warm and supportive.

I’d like to say a very happy 50th to ICOF, particularly remembering my friend Roger Sawtell. It was through Roger that I got into the co-operative space in the first place. Roger knew the 50th was coming, he would have been delighted to see ICOF reach it and he would have joined the celebrations if he could. Sadly, Roger died late last year so I want to pass on my congratulations on his behalf too.”