I met Catherine Howarth of the Fair Pensions campaign, before dropping in to visit the neighbouring offices of the Co-operative Party for the first time. Catherine is an experienced and energetic community organiser – an Obama equivalent, ex of London Citizens - and is using the approach to target unethical investors, such as money going towards oil extraction from tar sands. Catherine and I talked about future campaign ideas.
There will be, I hear from the wonderful Neil Jameson, a coming together of all the community organising coalitions across the country on May 3rd. It is just great to see too that one of the seven campaign calls in the Citizens UK People’s Manifesto is to promote “a rich variety of co-operative and mutual enterprises.”
London marathon runners come past my door, every age, shape and size.
I have been in the Wheatsheaf pub in Manchester, listening to the plans of FC United (one of our members) to develop a football ground in Newton Heath, location of the original club behind Manchester United. FC United got going when fans got fed up with its takeover by the Glaziers.
The aim is to raise over £3m in community shares and the cooperative club is one the pioneers of a new model of this kind of community capitalism (a term coined by Ron Gryzinsky, founder of South Shore Bank in the USA). The community shares programme, to fill in this story, is one we have pioneered recently with the Development Trust Association.
It is an inspiring story and an ambitious one. The media have tended to be slow on the uptake on all of this, with plenty on football scandals but less on the alternatives, so it is nice finally to see a big splash in the Guardian today by David Conn. As I have blogged before, our survey with Supporters Direct shows that a majority of fans who express a view want their club to be owned co-operatively by the fans.
A comment that captures the spirit of Newton Heath is from the manager, who responds to one question by saying that “sport is about winning, but it is also about community.”
I was due to be in Moscow this week for a gathering of co-operatives across Europe, so I am enjoying not just quiet skies, but a quiet life in London and Manchester.
I’m still intrigued to learn more about the European experience. In Finland, the Tampere co-operative centre has been nominated for the European Enterprise Award. Thanks to the Centre, the number of cooperatives in the region has risen by 500% in the past ten years. Co-operatives contribute, Johnston Birchall tells me, 21% of GDP in Finland, 16% in Sweden and 13% in Switzerland.
Big numbers, rapid development. Is this a quiet revolution?
The thing with new technology is that you get new quirks. On my PDA, my thumb gets it wrong all the time and I sign off messages ‘very beat’ instead of ‘very best’ – sometimes true, sometimes not. In my last job, I emailed the head of the Financial Services Authority last year to complain about the latest misspelling scandal – instead, you guess it, of the ‘misselling’ to consumers of structured investment products.
Good to see that my ex colleagues at Consumer Focus have now submitted a supercomplaint about the £158 billion misselling of ISAs. Keep the spell check off, guys.
I am a little bit less young today…
On holiday on Norfolk lanes, we came across Dora, lost and separated from her family. We carried her to Ringstead Pond (with its wonderful sign – slow ducks crossing). We wish her well.
Ipswich and I go back decades, but I visited Ipswich only for the first time this weekend. This was at the invitation of the Board of the East of England co-op.
East of England is an independent co-operative, with half a million members across Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, a wide spread of stores and an active commitment to the community.
I told the story of my link to Ipswich to Celia, one of the elected Board members, who is a teacher. At school, my maths teacher, Mr Goldsmith, was a passionate Ipswich fan. He used to give us double home work if Ipswich lost at home and half homework if they won away. That was great, except that Ipswich won the FA Cup the year I took my maths O level exam.
We were let off so much homework, I almost failed it.
Three great books on money have come in and out of my hands in recent days.
- Jim Lindsay is the General Manager of the Airdrie Savings Bank – the last remaining trustee savings bank – and dubbed recently ‘the last banker in Scotland’. The trustee savings banks started two hundred years ago in 1810, with particular strength in Scotland. Aidrie is the very model of a local bank, serving the communities of North Lanarkshire and avoiding all the speculation that has brought down other banks. Airdrie is a member of Co-operation and Mutuality Scotland, our sister network.
- I did a swap with Jim. He gave me a history of Airdrie Savings Bank, new out by Professor Charles Munn. I gave him my thumbed copy of ‘The Future of Finance’ by Dan Schwartz, recommended to me by Penny of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association.
- Then, in Newcastle a few days back, I met up with Patricia from Shared Interest, one of our members and a pioneer of social lending internationally (and I am a member myself, to declare an interest!). Patricia gave me the gift of a copy of their new book, for Shared Interest’s 20th anniversary, written by Sue Osborne and with a foreword by Harriet Lamb.
One book looking back 200 years, another 20, the third looking forward – all with an eye to making money work as a servant and not as a master.
Fair exchange, as my Dad used to say to me, is no robbery.
As of today, there are 53 co-operative schools registered across the country.
Sir Thomas Boughey in Stoke on Trent is one of the early ones. I was hearing about their progress from Mervyn Wilson at the Co-operative College.
A recent Ofsted report testified to the difference that a co-operative rather than a competitive culture makes: “The school’s specialism of business and the Co-operative movement’s support chime with its ethos of equality, fairness and sustainability, and permeate all that it does.”
“This is an outstanding school that constantly strives for excellence in all it does.
Students’ excellent behaviour and attitudes around the site and in lessons makes a significant contribution to the warm and friendly atmosphere of the school.
Community cohesion is a strength of the school and is integral to its specialism of business and the Co-operative movement. This has helped the school develop strong links locally, nationally and internationally.
In addition, students participate in a wide range of young enterprise activities as ‘true workers’ cooperatives’, thereby embedding fair-trade practices and sustainability and the development of effective business skills.”
When I was in the area, on my meet the members travels, I met some of the children who travelled to Lesotho recently from another co-operative school, the Sutherland Business and Enterprise College. Carl Ward, in the photo, is director of innovation at the school in Telford. Carl and the young people he teaches are visionaries and part of a movement that could transform the social environment for children over time. That, at least, is their aim.