Since my role changed from Development to Investment, I don’t get out so much to meet co-ops without appraising their suitability for a loan. So it was with some pleasure that I got to attend Ways Forward 7 in Manchester recently. Ways Forward was set up about five years ago as a response to the crisis at the Co-op Bank. Over the years they have had some high profile speakers including Ken Loach , Rebecca Long-Bailey and John McDonnell. This year was no exception with MEP Molly Scott-Cato on the agenda.
As usual, there was an interesting programme of presentations, workshops and seminars covering subjects such as:
- How local authorities can facilitate a co-operative culture, in particular, what Preston are currently doing.
- The report by the New Economics Foundation proposing that the co-operative economy be doubled, including a fascinating presentation by Les Huckfield. Les was one of the prominent MPs responsible for the Industrial Common Ownership Act in 1976 which helped ICOF (now known as Co-op & Community Finance) with finance to lend to co-operatives. Les, a passionate supporter of worker co-ops, has seen much of what the NEF is now proposing before in the 1970s and 80s and it’s good to know that he is now advising John McDonnell.
- How mature housing co-ops can come together having paid off their mortgages to create new Housing co-ops and ensure that they stay mutual.
- Financing the co-operative economy – crowd sourcing, mutual credit etc
All interesting positive stuff, but one of the great benefits for me of being allowed out to conferences like these is the opportunity to network – talk to borrowers (old and current) to see how they’re doing, talking to co-op development people to find out what’s going on in their world and most of all talking to some new and developing co-ops; from a potential new punk venue in Sheffield, to the co-op looking at new ways of delivering homecare around Manchester.
The energy and enthusiasm of this new generation of co-operators is infectious, and as I travelled the long journey back to Southampton on a packed train I felt inspired and determined to look at how we, as a co-operative lending institution can help make things happen.