Review:  Coop Congress 2022: Ready for High Speed?

Lending and Relationship Manager Kevin Lloyd-Evans attended Co-ops Congress for the first time this year. Here, he reflects on the event.

Congress 22 was held in Birmingham, at the East Side Rooms a new venue recently opened as part of the redevelopment of Birmingham’s central East Side, which will be the home of HS2.

As conferences go, Congress 22 was a great event – good venue & food, speakers, workshops, enthusiastic delegates and well organised by Cooperatives UK. The recurring theme addressed by various speakers was the gap between the number of people starting coops and socially minded people identifying strongly with cooperative principles and values. Rose Marley, CEO of Cooperatives UK, spoke about research which had been done in 2021 showing young people connect very strongly with coop principles and ways of working. So why are so few coops being started particularly in comparison to social enterprises?

There were several reasons offered as to why cooperative structures were not being adopted by people when starting social businesses. Speakers touched on a lack of awareness about the work of cooperatives, a lack of political support (more support for social enterprise development), and sometimes too much focus on structure and theory as opposed to action and implementation.

The challenge for the movement is the perception it is insular, narrow in focus and lacking diversity. Lord Victor Adebowale suggested the movement had a lot to offer and being more outward looking would bring benefits. Speakers including The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, MP Jess Philips, and Scott Darraugh (CEO Social Adventures) all echoed a similar theme.

On a further optimistic note, despite the lack of formal cooperatives established in recent years people were adopting cooperative values and ways of working. This provides a platform for inclusion, growth, and development. The challenge facing the movement seems not one of trying to convert people to cooperative values and principles but to find inclusion routes for the converted. Like HS2, the cooperative movement could be leaving Birmingham super charged and reaching new audiences in record time.