Today in our series meeting friends from the first fifty years of ICOF, we speak to Kevin Lloyd-Evans. Kevin joined us in 2022 and is our Lending and Relationships Manager
I first came across ICOF in 2015. ICOF provided back-office support to Big Issue Invest where I started in social investment. There was an excellent relationship with the respective lending teams for sourcing and completing investment opportunities. My first impression was positive. The ICOF approach to lending was straight forward, open, and effective. What I liked about ICOF was the lending staff knew their purpose and they had a clear sense of mission.
Joining ICOF has given me the opportunity to learn more about its history, clients, and the wider Cooperative Movement. When I first joined ICOF Bruce Wood, a trustee at the time, summed up the challenge with my role “lend the money out and don’t lose any!” This philosophy and approach are important to ICOF. It has been a key factor in its longevity. My predecessor Ian Rothwell called it Financial Stewardship. During our hand over period Ian impressed upon me two things – using capital carefully with risk balanced and secondly not being afraid of supporting the Cooperative Movement particularly the development of Worker Cooperatives. The lending role at ICOF is not without challenge, however it is extremely rewarding on a personal level. I work with interesting clients who, in lots of different ways, are trying to make things a little better in their communities or places of work.
The first cooperative I worked with was called Animorph. It’s a technology Worker Cooperative based in London. It was the kind of loan which often proves challenging at committee stage. I got a hard time! However, I knew it would be a good loan because of the people involved. The people are always the magic ingredient to good loans. We were able to help Animorph with other things not just the finance. We helped them secure a contract, a grant, and a place on a mentoring programme. I think sharing information and offering support can be useful to our clients. Earlier in the year Animorph fully repaid their loan – I often remind the committee about this point.
What I quickly realised when I joined ICOF was the loan book was full of powerful investment stories like Animorph going back many years. Some of the diversity and success of clients was reflected in my early visits and conversations with Smallaxe (name inspired by a Bob Marley Song), Pink Lane Jazz club, Dunbar Bakery, Hempen, Retrofit and Fourcorners. Ron Peck, a founding member of Fourcorner’s produced the UK’s first film based in the gay community, Nighthawks. In 1986 Ruhul Amin’s A Kind of English was the first Bangladeshi feature film to be made in England, from Fourcorners. What I noticed about ICOF was they had lots of brilliant stories, but a lot of the good work went unnoticed. That’s what is good about the 50th publicity campaign it is bringing these successes into focus.
Part of the challenge is that ICOF is a small organisation and always has been. However, I think ICOF has served the cooperative sector well. Doing something well is better than doing something poorly on a bigger scale. Scaling up badly is not a good idea. I personally like the niche nature of what we do. Ian Taylor talked about E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and I tend to agree. What did and does have a big impact on ICOF is the changing nature of the Cooperative Movement.
The first important date to learn when joining the Cooperative Movement is 1844 – the start of the Rochdale Pioneers. The second most important date is 1769 the start of the Fenwick Weavers Society in Scotland. Whichever date started (a Scots/English tussle!) the Cooperative Movement it did so a long time ago. The changes in the Cooperative Movement have had an impact on ICOF in the past 50 years. During my time at ICOF, I have listened to a lot of people talk about cooperative development – its decline, competition with social enterprise and possible rebirth. At events people talked about Mondragon in Spain and the Marcora Law in Italy meaning that if a company goes into liquidation, the staff get the first chance to buy the business. Positive support by government seems to be an important factor for the future of cooperative development. I think whatever direction the Cooperative Movement takes in the future legislative support is needed to help build the Movement.
ICOF has a proud history as part of that Movement, it continues to make finance available to groups that use it to positively impact on people, environment, and communities. That is a good thing. It makes my job enjoyable and full of learning. My favourite author is Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens, Money, Home Dues) he says humans dominate over other species not because of intelligence, strength, or ingenuity rather our ability to be cooperative at scale. That is quite an endorsement for the Cooperative Movement. According to Yuval, modern humans have been around for about 200,000 years which bodes well for ICOF and its future!