Herbie and the co-ops

There is an allegation hanging over me, most repeated by my family, that in terms of culture, the only films I saw as a child seemed to feature Herbie, the lovable – and non-diesel – VW Beetle.

I have a soft spot, for sure, but my travels in my job – and what a privilege that is to go out and visit our member co-ops – tend all to be by train. 

Over recent weeks I have been in Suffolk, Sussex, Hampshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire (today Cardiff, next week Edinburgh) and I’ve posted some photos below from co-ops I have been visiting.

The big surprise was visiting the inspiring, bustling, busy Infinity Foods, a retail worker co-op that is the heart of Brighton’s famous Lanes. Outside was … Herbie!

Lovingly restored (copied, the critics might say), I was allowed to take my photo and my turn behind the wheel. And yes, we won the race (in my mind).

In Emworth, Hampshire, I saw how the Southern Co-operative is using co-operation to keep a market town thriving. Modelled by Ashley below, they stock local produce from other shops in the town, and open longer hours, they share the proceeds, keeping local shops like two butchers within 200 metres in business and able to diversify into higher end produce. That’s community economic development at its best.

Not far away, Mark Smith, CEO, took me to see The Oaks, an extraordinary new co-operative crematorium built with community support. Clad with native oak timber, with a green, sedum roof with a natural and wild landscape around and powered by renewable energy, this is architecture with heart and soul. As one expert has said, this is now “perhaps the most idyllic and peaceful setting for cremation in the UK.”

Southern Co-operative thinks long term and plans long term, making beauty and sustainability features that will serve it well in a changing world.

In Hebden Bridge, a town whose renewal and reputation as a place of beauty and community is also down to the commitment and co-operation of local people, I was able to see Valley Organics, the Fox and Goose pub and the Trades Club

In Ipswich, I spoke at an event for two hundred coop store managers across the East of England, as Minnie Moll unveiled, appropriately enough for me given my new book, their values. 

Minnie is one of the leadership team that is renewing a much loved independent co-op and it is an amazing story. I can’t think of any UK business turning over more than £340 million that doesn’t have a Chief Executive, but a leadership team of equals. They act as a co-op within a co-op and, while it takes time and a special team to achieve that, I could see by talking to staff how that starts to set an authentically different culture. 

I am starting an Instagram account, to post photos on my travels, co-op, quirky and quirky co-op. I am so privileged to have a job where I can be inspired by my travels, the people I meet… and by Herbie. 

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