Blog not bulletin

In the Spotlight used to be a monthly e-bulletin. But co-operatives do so much good stuff that by the time the bulletin went out, the stories were old news. Hence this new blog. In the Spotlight is updated as soon as there's a story to tell or a co-operative hits the headlines.

To make sure you're getting the news as it happens keep checking this blog - even better subscribe. And why not get involved too - send your news, comment on posts, link this blog to your website and follow twitter updates.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Greens propose worker co-operative for Vesta

The Isle of Wight's Green Euro-MP is to submit a proposal to the Leader of the Isle of Wight Council for support for a worker co-operative at the Vestas wind turbine manufacturing plant to be established under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.

Dr Lucas's submission will be delivered today (Fri 31 July) at 4pm to Cllr David Pugh by Brian Lucas from Isle of Wight Green Party and a representative of the workers at the Vestas plant.

Under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, councils and communities have the opportunity to put forward proposals on sustainable improvements to local economic, environmental and social wellbeing. Once established, individual councils' proposals are sent to the Government. The deadline for current submissions is 31st July 2009.

Dr Lucas will call on the IoW Council to ask for Government support under the terms of the 2007 Act to ensure that:
  • The workers of the wind turbine company Vestas are permitted to form a Worker Co-operative, and are supported in doing so by the government.
  • Financial support (at the very least unemployment benefit) is paid to the workers of Vestas until such time as the proposed Worker Co-operative is financially viable.
Dr Lucas commented: "If the government is serious about tackling climate change, helping to protect the future of UK manufacturing, and safeguarding local jobs, it must act now to keep the Vestas facility open for business.

"Failure to keep the Vestas plant open will represent a spectacular failure by the government to match its rhetoric on green jobs with real policy action. It should be seizing the opportunity to create a renewable energy revolution that can see us through a transition towards a more environmentally and economically stable economy. Allowing the IoW plant to close now would be a massive embarrassment for ministers - and devastating for the IoW's workers."

There are around 500 worker co-operatives in the UK. They are primarily founded as new start enterprises rather than salvaged from ones that are under threat. However, there is a strong history of worker co-operatives being established by worker buyouts of viable businesses that are due to close - think of Tower Colliery, for example, a mine bought by the miners when it was due to be closed.

Is a worker co-operative the answer for the Vesta plant?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Greenwich Leisure centre ranked in UK top 25

Clissold Leisure Centre - one of 65 leisure centres within the M25 run by the mutual enterprise Greenwich Leisure Limited - has become the first leisure centre in London to achieve the top ‘Excellent’ standard for Quest, the UK Quality Scheme for Sport and Leisure.

The Hackney-based centre is now ranked as one of the top 25 accredited leisure centres in the UK, following a rigorous three-day assessment, which took place on 15-17 June 2009.

The leisure centre was re-opened following a major refurbishment in December 2007. It currently has 4,500 prepaid members and over 6,300 ‘pay and play’ members. In addition to leisure facilities, it also runs a successful GP referral scheme in association with Hackney Council and during 2008 had more than 370,000 visits.

Greenwich Leisure is a mutual enterprise, owned and controlled by its members, which include its employees, customers and local residents. Its board is drawn from the membership and stipulates there must be representatives of a range of stakeholders - employees, customers, the local authority and the trade union.

The assessors commended Clissold on a number of areas including; staff commitment, good management, cleanliness, maintenance and facilities for the disabled.

QUEST is the leisure industry benchmark for good practice and high standards, recommended by the British Quality Foundation for Self Assessment and Sport in Leisure Operations.

International co-operatives conference to be held in UK

The International Co-operative Alliance's annual research conference will this year be held in the UK. People before profit: the response of co-operatives to the global financial crisis and economic recession will take place at Queen's College Oxford from the 2 to 4 September 2009.

Research, workshops and debates at the conference will be addressing co-operative contributions to two key discussions - amongst governments, a discussion on how to regulate the banks so the current financial crisis never happens again and and amongst citizens, a broader discussion about how to create more sustainable, fairer, and people-centred economies.

Booking: for further details and a registration form see:

Participants may also be interested in joining the Society of Co-operative Studies Conference which begins midday Saturday 5th September, and finishes midday Sunday 6th September – see their website for registration and programme details which will be published later:

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Raise your co-operative’s profile through new awards

The Social Enterprise Coalition has launched the Social Enterprise Awards to recognise and champion the vital work carried out by the most successful social enterprises in the UK.

The awards have been designed to engage with the entire UK and will include a public, online vote to find the overall winners. It offers enterprises the chance to win up to £5,000 and gain a national platform for their business.

These Social Enterprise Awards succeed the Enterprising Solutions Awards which have taken place for ten years and was won last year by the Phone Co-op (pictured above) as a consumer-owned co-operative offering high quality services in the very competitive telecommunications market.

There are three categories in these new awards:
  • Best social eterprise operating for over three years, with a turnover of over £1 million
  • Best social enterprise operating for over three years, with a turnover of less than £1 million
  • Best new social enterprise, which has been operating for less than three years with at least one year of accounts
The Social Enterprise Awards offer a great way of raising the profile of your business, so why not put your co-operative forward and apply?

The deadline for applications is September 28, the national awards (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) will take place on 19 November and the UK-wide award ceremony on 3 December.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Co-operative Diversity Action launched

Co-operativesUK has launched Co-operative Diversity Action, a new initiative and website - - to help engage people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in co-operative enterprise.

Dorothy Francis, Chair of Co-operative Diversity Action (pictured above), said: “This is a great chance to build on existing good practice. Co-operative Diversity Action will work with all types of co-operatives to develop shared strategies and resources, so that we have the skills, knowledge and expertise to attract participation from people from ethnic minority communities across the whole co-operative movement.”

Co-operative Diversity Action stems from the work of the Ethnic Diversity Steering Group, which was established by Co-operativesUK in early 2009. The steering group has renamed itself Co-operative Diversity Action and established the website to reflect its outward facing role in actively supporting co-operatives in increasing the participation of people from BAME communities.

Co-operative Diversity Action’s members come from different parts of the UK and represent a range of different sectors from the movement, including retail societies, co-operative development bodies, worker co-operatives and housing co-operatives. It will be working with all co-operatives, large and small.

The website provides a space for co-operative enterprises, business development specialists, co-operative support organisations and BAME support organisations to access and share resources.

It already features case studies, sample equality and diversity policies, fact sheets and guides, reports, action plans and diversity strategies from the retail societies such as the Co-operative Group and Midcounties Co-operative Society. Co operative Diversity Action is inviting contributions from co-operatives and support bodies to ensure all the information on the website is as up to date as possible.

For more information visit, email or phone Giles Simon on 0161 246 2941.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Co-operatives supported by Big Green Challenge

The Big Green Challenge, run by NESTA and supported by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, is a competition designed to stimulate and support community-led responses to climate change.

Open to formally constituted and informal groups, entrants in the Big Green Challenge compete for funding and tailored support which will help them develop their idea.

With the winners now published, two innovative co-operatives have been successful and will get financial and business support from NESTA.

The Carbon Co-op is a simple but great idea. Like other buying groups, it will help bring people and communities together to purchase low-carbon products at discounted rates, ranging from energy meters to solar panels. It is a member-owned model designed to deliver large-scale reductions in domestic carbon emissions through co-operation.

CoRE (Community Renewable Energy) is a co-operative that works with community and voluntary groups, helping them set up comunity owned renewable energy plants. It takes a stake in the new business in order to sustain itself.

It is in the process of establishing a farmer owned anaerobic digester and a community owned wind turbine, amongst other innovations, and has already expanded from the North East into the North West and Yorkshire since being established in 2007.

Chair of Co-ops and Mutuals Wales to advise Welsh ministers

The Chair of Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales, Alex Bird, has been appointed to a new Welsh Assembly advisory group set up to advise Welsh ministers on Social Enterprise.

Alex’s appointment to the new Social Enterprise Ministerial Advisory Group was announced by the Deputy Minister for Regeneration, and he will shortly begin tackling a range of crucial issues to Wales.

Alex Bird said: “After over 35 years in the sector, I am delighted to be able to contribute to this important debate. Partnership is key to our approach, and Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales looks forward to playing a full and enthusiastic part in this new body.”

John Goodman, Head of Policy and the Regions, Co-operativesUK added: “I know Alex will make a strong contribution, and I am pleased that the co-operative and mutual sector is to have representation on this important new body, and that the Welsh Assembly government recognises its complimentary role at this time.”

Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales is the regional arm of Co-operativesUK in Wales. It works to raise the profile of co-operative entrprises, and therefore this work with the Welsh Assembly is an critical part of its work.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Co-operatives work with RISE on Social Enterprise Mark criteria

A new working group consisting of RISE, Co-operatives South West and Co-operativesUK has been set up to address issues that might apply to co-operatives wanting to apply for the Social Enterprise Mark, the mark that has been developed in the South West by RISE.

A joint statement by RISE and Co-operatives South West says that “In recognition of the concerns raised by co-operative representatives about the eligibility of co-operatives for the Social Enterprise Mark, Co-operatives South West, RISE and Co-operativesUK have set up a small working group to identify and agree a set of indicators which could be used to assess the additional social impact of a co-operative applicant.

“RISE would then consider evidence against these indicators in relation to criterion D 'profit is predominantly used and/or distributed for social/environmental purposes' and criterion F 'Be able to provide evidence that social / environmental objectives are being achieved'.”

Brian Titley, of Co-operatives South West says “it as important that the Social Enterprise Mark is available to co-operatives. We are pleased to be working with RISE to establish social impact indicators relevant to co-operatives."

Although there are various co-operatives which have already been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark – the Co-operative Group South West and the Zebra Collective for example – some co-operatives have experienced difficulties when applying for the Mark.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Substance delivers youth violence report to No 10

Social research co-operative, Substance, has written and delivered a ground-breaking report to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, showing how sport can provide an effective response to the growing problems of gun and knife crime amongst young people.

The report, Laureus – Breaking the Cycle of Violence, was compiled and researched by the worker co-operative, Substance, and commissioned by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. It calls on politicians, professional sports clubs and community sports facilities to invest in sport as an effective mechanism for tackling youth crime, disengagement and gang violence.

Olympic legend Daley Thompson and Substance members personally delivered the report to Downing Street, cycling 367 miles from Mancehster's Old Trafford to Downing Street to deliver the report. Along the journey, the team visited community projects which use sport to keep young people off the streets and provide positive life lessons.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "I am pleased to congratulate the team on finishing their epic cycle ride at the doorstep of Number 10 today . . . Richard Taylor, my Special Advisor on youth violence and knife crime, is here today to welcome the team with me and we receive their report with interest."

Professor Tim Crabbe, Director of Substance and author of the report said: “Young people don’t join gangs in order to get involved in violence. They join gangs to belong to something, for excitement and for protection, which are the same reasons why they would be attracted to becoming involved in sport and sports clubs. This is why sport represents an interesting vehicle for challenging the culture of gun and knife crime”.

Read the report here

Monday, 20 July 2009

Co-operative brewery opens another pub

Hesket Newmarket Brewery has re-opened the only pub in the nearby village of Melmerby, the Shepherds Inn, after after six months of closure. It will help to revitalize the village, and provide a much needed asset for a popular part of the Eden Valley.

Hesket Market Brewery is joinlty owned by a co-operative of 94 shareholders from the village of Hesket Newmarket in Cumbria who bought the brwery when its owners decided to retire in 1999. The village then formed a co-operative in 2003 to buy the pub when it faced a similar fate.

The brewery already supplies cask ales to around 40 pubs across Cumbria and sells bottled beers to an increasing number of specialist outlets across the county. But the Shepherds Inn is the first new pub venture that the brewery has taken on. It will offer up to six of the co-operative owned Brewery’s award winning ales at any one time, becoming a second showcase alongside the Old Crown.

The re-opening might also marks a first for pub company Enterprise Inns, which has have leased the Shepherds to the Brewery ‘free of cask ale tie’. This arrangement, Hesket Newmarket Brewery believes, may be the first of its kind for any national pub company, and represents an innovative way forward for rural pubs in need of a new business model to survive.

The Shepherds Inn will offer a high standard of food, using locally sourced ingredients. The aim is for the Inn to become a destination eating place whilst also catering for the needs of locals and tourists.

Friday, 17 July 2009

You & Yours, Guardian, local press . . .

There’s been some interesting coverage of co-operatives in the news this week. There have been good local stories – coverage of a community buyout on BBC Leeds and a proposed community buyout in Dunbar for example.

There’s also been some welcome national coverage. BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours on Thursday 16 July featured an interview with Dame Pauline Green, CEO of Co-operativesUK, and a story about the Handmade Bakery, a worker co-operative and community supported bakery. And the Guardian featured a profile of Ed Mayo, the designated CEO of Co-operativesUK.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Co-operatives in new Renewable Energy Strategy

The Government’s long awaited UK Renewable Energy Strategy 2009, published today (15 July), profiles co-operative and community owned approaches to renewable energy production and supply.

Thanks in part to Co-operativesUK and key members in the renewable energy sector working with the Department for Energy and Climate Change, there is a clear commitment in the strategy to “providing new funding to develop an online ‘How to’ guide for community energy.

"This will be a web-based resource for Local Authorities, community groups, developers, energy suppliers and service providers, businesses, and anyone looking to increase their ambition and install renewable and low-carbon energy generating technologies at community scale.”

The report features case studies of Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative in Oxfordshire, which was set up with support from Energy4All and raised over £4 million through a community share issue, and Torrs Hydro in Derbyshire, which raised over £100,000 from the local community to install a hydroelectric generator.

Energy4All is also cited as a main source of advice for community groups seeking to set up community owned renewable energy.

To read the relevant sections of the 236 page strategy setting out how the UK can source 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 read pages 158 to 164, which is available here.

And keep an eye out for further developments in the near future.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Greener Together getting started

Co-operativesUK is delivering a two year national project, Greener Together – The Co-operative Way, funded by Defra’s Greener Living Fund. The project will work with co-operatives that are members of Co-operativesUK, which will in turn work with their members to help them achieve a measurable change in pro-environmental behaviour.

In due course, there will be opportunities for all types of co-operative to get involved in the project, and there is a particular focus on worker and community co-operatives.

For now, however, Co-operativesUK is seeking a project manger to run the project. Building strong relationships with a wide range of project partners and stakeholders to boost individual member support, the project manager will co-ordinate the successful delivery of this.

An experienced and enthusiastic project manager with a background in environmental issues, candidates should have a proven track record in delivering results and excellent organisational and communication skills.

For more information about this post call 0161 246 2960, email or visit: Pay: £28,000 p.a. Closing date: 4 pm 03/08/09. Interviews: 13/08/09.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Media wakes up to co-operatives - this week!

This week the media has suddenly woken up to what co-operatives offer. Just take the last three days.

Wednesday - Tipping Point Film Fund's launch got lots of coverage in the trade press. Check out the Screen Daily for example.

On Thursday, Dame Pauline Green, Chief Executive of Co-operativesUK, was interviewed about co-operatives for Radio 4's You and Yours (which will be broadcast soon) and the community buyout of a local shop in Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire, was covered on the BBC website.

Today, Friday, there was a great, great article about Busy Bee Toyshop co-operative and community investment on the BBC website, as well as in a number of local papers, and Third Sector covered the five enterprises that have been awareded support as part of the community shares programme.

And there's been loads of other stuff going on too. Like this article in Social Enterprise. To keep up to date with coverage of co-operatives in the news keep checking this blog, follow updates on Twitter at, or subscribe to RSS feeds on the Co-operativesUK homepage.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Toys 'r' ours - community buys toyshop!

Residents in Manchester have raised over £32,000, enabling the community to set up a co-operative to buy out a much-loved local toyshop.

When the previous owner decided to retire from running Busy Bee Toyshop after 25 years, there was a real question about its future. In uncertain economic times would anyone be willing to take on an independent toyshop?

It didn’t take long for an answer – a group of residents in the south Manchester suburb of Chorlton came forward, suggesting the community could buy and run the business. Things happened quickly after that. Rachel Muter and James Hillon organised a meeting to gauge support for a co-operative to take over ownership of Busy Bee Toyshop. Around 20 people attended, and subsequent meetings established that there was an appetite for the venture.

The group decided that the co-operative ought to be owned and controlled by the community and so registered as a community co-operative through Co-operativesUK. It very quickly issued shares, setting a target of raising £30,000 in just over a month, which would enable the co operative to buy the name and stock of Busy Bee, take on the lease for the premises, and secure further loans.

Within five weeks the co-operative raised £32,250 from 103 investors, meaning that the community buy-out could go ahead. The members invested anywhere between £250 and £2,000. Each member has one vote regardless of the level of money they put in, and after the first two years member investors will receive a return on their investment.

A committee was quickly elected to see the co-operative through the first six months and provide overall strategic direction for the business, and the co-operative has now recruited a shop manager.

For Rachel, it’s the co-operative model that made it happen. Not only has it brought in much needed capital, but “it’s enabled us to draw on the skills of a range of different people. We’ve got people on the committee with business experience, a couple who specialise in marketing and another with a great financial brain.”

Helen Seymour, Head of Projects and Development at Co-operativesUK, says: “Busy Bee is a shining example of a growing trend we’re seeing across the UK – communities coming together to save shops or services and bring them into community ownership. What makes Busy Bee very special, however, is that it’s one of a small but hopefully growing number of community share issues in an urban area. It shows that a sense of community can thrive even in large cities like Manchester.”

Read the BBC article here

Monday, 6 July 2009

Support for community owned shops to continue

There are now over 200 village shops in the UK owned by their local communities and the boom is set to continue with the extension of a special programme of financial support.

Speaking at the annual general meeting of Co-operative & Community Finance in Windsor on 26 June 2009, Gill Withers, project director at the Plunkett Foundation, described how the Village CORE Programme had supported 36 community-owned shops to open since May 2006 and a further 17 were due to open by the end of the year. The extension to the programme, which had just been announced would be able to support a further 60 communities in the next three years.

The Village CORE Programme is a partnership between the Plunkett Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Co-operative & Community Finance. It provides a combination of grant and loan finance up to a maximum total of £40,000 matched with the equivalent community contributions of up to £20,000 alongside specialist enterprise support. Co-operative & Community Finance manages the loan element of the package and so far has released nearly £720,000 in loans.

Ian Rothwell, development manager of Co-operative & Community Finance, said: “While the communities we support work impressively hard to raise enough money to purchase their local shops, the loan finance we provide in addition makes community ownership a reality. Traditional lenders can be reluctant to give support to community-based enterprises, whereas the Village CORE Programme is run specifically to help community ventures that might otherwise be unsupported.”

Suma Wins prestigious national award

Suma Foods, the worker co-operative based in West Yorkshire, has won the inaugural award for “Specialist Wholesaler of the Year” at the Grocer magazine's Gold Awards 2009, presented at The Dorchester last week.

Suma’s PR Manager Andrew Mackintosh says “it is, of course, a great honour to be nominated and then to win was entirely unexpected. We like to think it’s a recognition of the fact that you can run a business along ethical lines and still be innovative and progressive in what is a difficult time for us all commercially”

Receiving the award for Suma was its Brand Development Manager Jon Knight who said “on the night other category winners included Tesco, Cadburys and Waitrose, so we were competing with the real giants of the grocery trade, it was with great pride that we accepted the award”

A member of Co-operativesUK, Suma is a co-operative owned, managed and entirely controlled by its workers. Distributing food across the globe from it’s base in Elland, West Yorkshire, it is the largest independent wholefood wholesaler in the UK.