How do you measure the impact of community co-operatives?
Following the publication of our new ‘Community Co-operatives in Wales’ report, our Chief Executive, Derek Walker, looks at measuring the impact of such businesses:
When we started publishing our four reports on the co-operative economy in Wales at the beginning of this year we already knew co-operatives added value to communities and jobs and growth to economies. We wanted to demonstrate that a co-operative approach was an alternative, but valid, way of doing real business. When we exhibited at the recent International Co-operative Alliance Expo Trade Event in Manchester recently with some of Wales’ most successful co-operatives, it was apparent that the organisations attending were there to do business: to make new contacts; pitch for new business and to grow.
Our most recent report is published this week. ‘Community Co-operatives in Wales – Ordinary people doing extraordinary things’ looks at the range of ways in which co-operative approaches are helping Welsh communities.
In our country there are over a hundred community co-operatives. They come in all shapes and sizes and are found in almost all parts of Wales. Some are large – Wrexham Supporters Trust which owns Wrexham Football Club has more than 2,000 members, whilst others such as new co-operative Grwp Adfywio Dinas Mawddwy, which was created to purchase a retail outlet and turn it into a community resource, are relatively small. Community co-operatives can provide a wide range of services from pubs and village shops to childcare, training, food and retail and even renewable energy.
Our research shows that community co-operatives offer economic, social and environmental benefits to their communities and to Wales as a whole, because they bring together people who are committed to their community to deliver services that their communities need.
Community co-operatives offer the best of both worlds. They are businesses, so they trade and have to think about their costs, prices and markets. But they also have social values, trading fairly and responsibly for the good of everyone.
Co-operatives provide jobs and income. In the Afan valley, the Glyncorrwg Ponds co-operative employs seven people directly and 23 people indirectly in a community where a third of the population of working age claims an unemployment related benefit. The facilities developed and managed by the co-operative make a massive contribution to the growing tourism industry in the area. Further west, Carmarthenshire Country Markets gives people in the area access to high quality, local produce. It also provides a market for local food-producers and crafts-people.
Community co-operatives can have environmental benefits. Community co-operative shops reduce the number of journeys made by car, while community food co-operatives reduce food miles, reduce the amount of packaging used, and discourage food waste. In Pembrokeshire, Cwm Arian Renewable Energy is developing renewal energy generation capacity in the communities of Hermon, Y Glog and Llanfyrnach. Forty per cent of the income generated will be used to increase the energy efficiency of local households, twenty per cent will be used to support investment in low carbon social enterprises, with the balance being used for reducing the community’s carbon footprint.
Community co-operatives are not just in it for their own benefit. Many support groups in their locality and generate spin off activities as a direct result of their work. Gwynfi Community Co-operative makes donations to local community groups and supports local schools. Rhuddin Housing Co-operative in Kidwelly has set up a community supported agriculture scheme and opened up areas of woodland to the public. This ‘re-cycling’ of profits is an important approach for developing community assets.
Whether it is bringing old buildings back into beneficial use, providing vital services or being the ‘glue’ that holds the community together, community co-operatives are proving to have a significant role in community cohesion across Wales.
So how do you measure the benefits of co-operative approaches in communities? It is difficult. Metrics such as jobs created and training opportunities have a real value but as our report demonstrates each of these organisations delivers value above and beyond their raison d’etre.
As one respondent noted in our research, his project consists of ‘Ordinary people doing extraordinary things’. But his project is not unique. This report has given us an insight into the extraordinary amount of people and projects across Wales which are having a massive impact across their own communities and their own economies. How do you accurately measure that?
You will also find a version of Derek’s article in today’s Western Mail.