Close to the Plymouth Lighthouse, four hundred and seventy of us this weekend gathered for an annual ‘congress’ of co-operatives and there were more than a few beacons of hope.
The speakers included Richard Wilkinson, Phillip Blond and Will Hutton and the tone and debate were exemplary. In democratic fashion, the theme voted on for our focus next year is to work with others on community co-operatives and innovation.
It will be interesting to explore this kind of localism – we have had years of experiment, from island and community retailing in Scotland through to inner city finance. Networks like the Development Trusts Association have done great work building community agencies as ‘anchors’ at the local level.
One lesson is that localism can benefit by being connected up outside, because some things will only be sustainable at scale. But another is that a lot of outside support and finance never makes it through to local people to support sustainable enterprises.
Cath who I met here from Footprint Workers Co-operative in Leeds is one person trying to combine the community organising style of coalition building with co-operative enterprise. My good friend Pat Conaty is talking of an idea we and others tried in the Midlands years ago of developing a self-help course in organising your own local economy. The course was called ‘Nutshell’ – a prize of co-operative chocolate for anyone who can possibly guess what that acronym stood for.
There will be many other lessons, both positive and negative, and I would love to hear what you think they may be. And we can’t do this ourselves and won’t pretend to, but with what communities are going to face in years to come, it feels right to be more ambitious.
Let it all shine.