The co-operative sector story in 2016 was one of patient and practical action.
At the top end, the Co-op is coming back into health as the leading convenience retailer, with positive sales and an investment in ‘being co-op’ that has had a wonderful response from staff across the business.
At the small end, Co-operatives UK has supported 121 new co-operatives come into existence, all focused on direct needs and new opportunities. The backing of the Co-operative Bank, creating a new business support programme open to any co-operative, The Hive, has been central to this work.
One example is the new GlenWyvis Whisky Distillery, which will be built on a farm above the town of Dingwall, 100% powered by green energy and 100% supplied by barley from a local farmer co-operative.
It is ninety years since the town had a distillery. Another, Ferintosh – one of the oldest distilleries recorded in Scotland, closed in 1785 to the consternation of Rabbie Burns, who lamented: “Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost! Scotland lament frae coast to coast!”
With an equity issue for members advised by Community Shares Scotland (spreading our pioneering work for co-operatives on this with Locality to all parts of the UK), work on the distillery started in 2016. The first product, on sale for Christmas, was gin and the first run of whisky, the last I heard, is planned for Burns Night 25 January 2017.
Alongside this, the society has appointed a curator, Cait Gillespie, to build the links with history for visitors, with the hope of a full visitor centre to come, possibly served by an electric powered bus and elevator from the town centre.
As Co-ops UK’s member impact report, Together, showed, our own network has also grown stronger in 2016, with almost 1,000 people attending events and training and some of the UK’s largest agricultural co-ops entering into membership.
The year 2017 and beyond will be a time for Britain to think differently – and a time to prove that co-operation offers a compelling solution to Britain’s challenges.
In line with the ideas and encouragement of many members, in 2017 we will launch a long-term strategy to strengthen and grow the UK’s co-operative and mutual sector. Based on dialogue and data across the sector and beyond, I believe that it will help shape the foundations of a different kind of economy.
Co-operation is the hope of 2017 – so, with whisky or without, it is a good time to make your own participation a new year resolution.