Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Glenn Bowen

As we look towards the end of our fiftieth year celebrations, we’re talking to people from partner organisations across the four nations of the UK. Here we say ‘’schwmae’ (how’re you doing?) to Glenn Bowen, Director for enterprise at Cwmpas, previously The Wales Co-operative Centre. 

“We have a long and historic connection with ICOF. Even though individual staff members and organisational direction have changed, that connection continues. Ian Taylor was a long standing link because he was on our board for many years kind of representing the worker owned, or employee owned, sector within Wales. More recently, a colleague, Carly McCreesh, has been on the ICOF board.

We did more deals in the past, because we used to work on buyouts and worker coops more than we do now. We tend to work more now on employee ownership and the employee ownership trust model. It is a way to have a planned succession plan with the exiting owner and we talk then about transferring ownership to the employees. A lot of the time it’s through the trust model. So the equity we might have worked with ICOF around in the past isn’t needed in all of these deals. Back in the day, a lot of the deals were working with companies that got into financial difficulties with the old owners and there was a push for us to go in and try to salvage something – a kind of phoenix situation – using the worker coop model. People like Ian and my ex colleague Norman Watson used to lead on it for us. They would work really closely together as they progressed the buyout in the form of a worker co-op.

PrimePac was probably one of the last ones in in that old mould, where there was an issue and we went into salvage with a phoenix deal. There had been a fire in the factory which meant that the old owners were leaving the market – the business still had an order book which meant there was a market to be picked up. Norman worked with the team there to set them up, to take over that market, helped them look for smaller factory premises. The team had to work really hard on developing the skill set from being shop floor to getting the sales through the door. And they’re still going today.

In more recent times, community ownership has come to the fore. We’ve done all sorts – we’ve done the community ownership, stuff on assets and community pubs, we’ve done broadband, we’ve done wetlands, we’ve done lots of things in that community ownership space. We’ve done a lot of work in the sector to reinvigorate community shares. It’s a historic model going back to the 19th century, it was lost for a long time until people like Jim Brown tried to get people to fall back in love with the Community Benefit Society model, or BenCom model, and to raise equity from the community in the form of shares. That’s been a real opportunity for ICOF to broaden its remit to look at new cooperative opportunities beyond just the worker co-op model. I think that’s going to continue with and hopefully expand into new areas of work – in terms of the societal needs and the huge problems regarding social care, for example, I can imagine we and ICOF might find ourselves trying to support community benefit societies around social care. It will be interesting to see what the UK political parties do in the care space – with the election on the horizon, there’s definitely change coming one way or another. Here in Wales, there’s been talk of a national care service for Wales – I’m not sure where that is right now but it’s been discussed.

In terms of ICOF’s future, I think there’s more to do around supporting cooperation within communities and getting equity and debt in there to leverage equity in the future. It’s useful for ICOF to think of the difference in the devolved nations. So in England, you’ve got Power to Change doing a lot of heavy lifting in terms of underwriting and encouraging equity.  We haven’t got Power to Change in Wales so there might be opportunities to work more closely in that space, in terms of leveraging and helping communities to raise the equity and look at gap funding. We have got different finance products within Wales, being run by Wales Council for Voluntary Action/Social Investment Cymru – there could be good connections for ICOF to make there as we move forward.

Happy Birthday – penblwydd hapus – to all the team at ICOF and thank you very much – diolch yn fawr iawn – for all the help in supporting the co-op movement within Wales over the last 50 years, but particularly the last 40 years because we’ve been around as an organisation for 40 years!”