Happy new year, with a community cheer

2020 will be a big year for the UK co-operative sector and it has been a joy to start on New Years Day at Tafarn Sinc – the highest co-operative pub in the country.

In a remote Pembrokeshire village, with a closed train station across the path and a slate quarry in the hills, the zinc clad pub is a warm-hearted and eclectic model of community action. Threatened with closure in 2017, the local community rallied around to save the pub as a local facility.

“When we heard that the pub was being put up for sale, we didn’t worry at first,” says Hefin Wyn, from the neighbouring village of Maenclochog. But then, when no bidder came forward, he joined other members to save the pub through community ownership. The campaign was backed by Pembrokeshire-born actor Rhys Ifans and supported through Co-ops UK’s community shares programme. £400,000 was raised through shares and loans to save a pub first opened in 1876.

On New Years Day 2020, I found traditional dancing over the afternoon, followed by folk music, at least up to the start of Doctor Who on TV.

“We became members because we simply wanted to save the pub” explains Sheila, a community care worker who danced and played today. “As the pub was shaped by the community, so we got involved more.”

Dan works behind the bar, interested in how community ownership works and also a keen Manchester United fan. Peter, who I just missed after stepping out for a walk in the neighbouring hillside park, also community run, is distinguished academic on mining history… and takes photos for the society of music evenings.

Coming up in 2020 will be our activities around two points of history – the 150th anniversary of Co-operatives UK, of which Tafarn Sinc is a member, and the 175th anniversary of the original Rochdale Pioneers, widely recognised as the first modern co-operative.

Looking forward, we will be launching our next round of our Unfound Programme, supporting a new generation of digital co-operatives. And we are campaigning with the Employee Ownership Association for a step change in industrial democracy with our joint One Million Owners campaign.

In policy terms, it is welcome that one of the only financial commitments in the Conservative Manifesto for the December 2019 election was a promise of a new Community Ownership Fund. We will work collaboratively with partners to make the most of this opportunity, which mirrors the success under the last Government of the community housing programme, championed by the Confederation of Cooperative Housing and allies.

The example of community co-operatives such as Tafarn Sinc show what is possible when people come together.

In tough times, that is the enduring hope that co-operatives point to – that we are stronger together.

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