Over the next three years, the existing 7,000 independent co-operative businesses across the UK in addition to new cooperatives, will receive financial and consultative support from a newly launched programme targeting community enterprises.
The Hive, launched by The Co-operative Bank and Co-operatives UK is the first co-operative development programme of its kind in the nation and will be fuelled by £1million in funding from The Bank. The project will serve as a business support hub for community enterprises, offering online business advice and guidance, one-to-one support, peer mentoring and group training sessions. Next month, this programme will introduce an online co-operative community for networking and business development opportunities.
Niall Booker, Chief Executive at The Co-operative Bank, said: “The Hive is a UK first programme that can help guide business people through the process of starting a co-operatively run business, assist those wanting to convert to a co-operative, and help existing co-ops grow. We have a combination of public support for co-ops, a dynamic sector and now an innovative business support programme, which can help boost an important part of the economy.”
Underpinned by what The Co-op identifies as “evidence of people’s discontent with the amount of control they have over the economy, their workplaces and their local communities,” the programme was launched alongside a survey of over 2000 consumers across the UK. According to the survey, 72 per cent of the respondents have, or like the idea of, clubbing together with others in the community to save a local service or asset, particularly historical buildings, public parks, and local shops and pubs.
Ed Mayo, General Secretary at Co-operatives UK, said: “Our research shows that there is increasing disillusionment at the lack of control people have over the economy, their local area and their workplaces. However, it highlights how people also see co-operatives as an alternative way to have some influence over everything from what happens at their local leisure centre to the content of their preferred TV channel.”
In the last five years, 550 libraries, 7,500 local pubs and 2,000 village shops have closed across the UK, but this communal view to preservation has also led to some 57,000 people investing more than £60 million in community share schemes to save local pubs, shops and buildings in the last five years. In Bath, for example, residents rallied together to save a historic local pub, The Bell Inn, from closure. Member and owner, Sue Pryor, credits the communal spirit to the revival of the pub. “When people come into the pub there’s a lot of pride that they’ve bought into something very special and part own it,” she said. It is now owned by 536 of its customers, fans and workers under IPS CoOperative rules, and still attracts icons of the South West’s music scene.
Co-operatives already have a strong presence in certain sectors of the economy, particularly in convenience retailing, funeral care and agriculture. The Hive aims to spur this growing sector along, “from renewables to retail, sports to social care.”