I was recently invited back to my old stomping ground of Cambridge to speak at the Regional Co-op Council's annual conference - as some may know, I spent several years turning around the fortunes a local co-op and social enterprise development agency there, and somehow initiating some ideas that have since become national flagships...
The East of England was also the first to create a 10 year strategy for shaping the future of the co-operative movement from a regional perspective (which I still have a copy of!, although sadly just about everyone at the Coops East conference seemed to be unaware of just how influential they've been in shaping the wider movement and beyond through these things in its history...).
Therefore being able to return to remind them of their history and legacy seemed an important thing to do in encouraging the next wave of the 'co-operative revolution'.
(and it was also personally encouraging for me to be able to see some people I originally got to know 15 years ago still active and impacting the world through their roles - Austen and Sally: yes, that's you I'm referring to!)
While the day itself may have seemed to have had too many speakers for some people's comfort (8 main presentations, 2 facilitated round table planning activities, and a break for lunch - and all in the space of about 5 hours), my impression is that many also felt that they wanted more... and my overriding impression was that rather than blinding people with stats and policy headlines, all of the speakers more appropriately drew on stories and histories of their respective co-ops - its stories that capture our interest and imagination much more powerfully, and make it easier to share these ideas with other people, than any set of quantitative data and mapping reports ever can.
So to try and summarise what impressed upon me most from the day means I'll omit some things that others felt were the highlights for them, or focus on some aspects that others felt were more of an irrelevance. But that's part of the joy of blogging - encouraging you to subsequently read others' write ups and form your own view, and a reflection of the diversity of the co-operative movement itself. However, for me the 'highlights' I'd like to share are as follows:
- Co-ops were highlighted at being at the forefront of the next agricultural revolution with the workers co-op, Delta T Devices, sharing how their equipment is helping to grow lettuces on the international space station
- Dame Pauline Green passionately argued how co-ops have become the UK's greatest ever export, revealed how she's now a good mate of the Pope, and had people highlight that a musical about her work for the movement is already well know - "There is nothing like a Dame" from South Pacific
- Tweets that people were making on the day drew interest in what Coops East were doing from the co-operative movement internationally
- It's impossible for nearly any co-operative to fully cover all of the impact and ways in which they are contributing to making the world a better place in only 9 minutes
- While some co-ops may be accused of having too many aims for their own good, and people encourage them to therefore reduce them in number; if you were a parent with 'too many children', how could you choose which of them to give up?
- People's ideas for what a 'paradise region' might look like if the East of England were to be transformed by the co-op sector struck me as being reminiscent of the role that Co-op societies held in their communities at the start of the 20th century (community social events, everyone being aware about what co-ops are and using them as their preferred suppliers and shops, schools being explicitly linked with coops and teaching children about them, local businesses being encouraged and supported by them...)
- Some co-ops present (and who spoke) seemed unaware of the national programmes and influence they'd created over the years until I referred to some of these during the Q&A panels
- I also found myself being volunteered to chair the conference in lieu of my father who was too unwell to do so, and so naturally took the opportunity to do some table-top dancing as part of the official proceedings...
I think my overriding takeaway from the day was that as a movement we have a legacy (and future) that is far more impressive and powerful than most realise, but we risk losing it all if we forget our history and don't keep regularly sharing and reminding ourselves of our stories.
But the whole day was also tweeted and instagrammed about by various other people there - just check out the day's hashtag to see other's pictures and stories via #acoopregion; and Coops East have also uploaded all of the speakers notes and presentations to their website: http://www.cooperatives-east.coop/events/acooperativeregion/