Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Tim Blanc

In our interview series exploring memories from our fifty years so far, today we’re talking to Tim Blanc. Tim is one of the founder members of Bristol based Essential Trading Cooperative and has been an ICOF Trustee

“I’ve been with Essential  for over 40 years and I was a Trustee director of ICOF for many years alongside that, including as Treasurer. I actually trained Alain to do the finance work at Essential!

I first met ICOF when I was Chair of Avon and Bristol Co-op Finance limited (ABCF), which was a loan fund for coops around Bristol. ABCF’s lending was not sustainable, so I, as Chair, persuaded my ABCF co-directors – who were mainly Bristol City Councillors and local co-ops – to gift the fund over to ICOF, where it could be better utilised. Part of the deal was that I should join the ICOF Board to make sure the money was well looked after and it’s still sitting there being used!

From an Essential perspective, we’ve borrowed a number of chunks of loan finance from ICOF over the years, These have included £50,000 for a cold store, £77,000 for bagging machines and manufacturing kit, £82,000 for a refit, racking, and a £150,000 mortgage deposit to buy one of the warehouse units that we currently own.

During the pandemic, we had a huge boom when panic buying set in. We had around eight weeks of Christmas levels of trading. And then things took a dip last year. Ironically, this year, even with the cost of living crisis, we’re actually having a very strong year. We’re lucky insofar as our home trading patch includes some quite wealthy areas – those people are still buying their organic produce from us. Our shops in Bristol & Bath are recovering from the pandemic, which is great – though we’re still feeling the impact of Brexit. It completely killed all of our exports to Europe – not because we’re not skilled! We can happily export to Singapore or to the Middle East, but we can’t export to the EU – we trade a lot with Italy, Germany, Holland, France and Spain, importing from them and we used to export across the EU. But now we’re not allowed to do that as you can’t have stuff coming from the UK and back out with EU origins on it.

Right now, our business is in a strong place.  We’ve paid off all our loans and have a strong cash balance, as well as owning two buildings – we’re not borrowing money now. But if we were to want to borrow money again, I’m sure we would look at ICOF –  borrowing from ICOF would always be preferable to a bank loan. We always went to ICOF rather than our current account provider because they’re part of the co-operative movement.

Happy birthday ICOF.  Fifty years later, so many co-ops, democratic community enterprises & employee owed business supported. And there is still plenty of cash to lend to co-ops, even with the recessions & financial crisis of the turbulent UK marketplace.  Well done.  This is true co-operative sustainability.  Roll on another 50 years of lending & support !!!