Modern Pioneers #10 – David Jenkins, Wales Co-operative Centre
We’re running a campaign for Co-operatives Fortnight (21st June – 5th July) that shows the strength and diversity of co-operative businesses in Wales.
Through a series of blog posts, the ‘Modern Pioneers’ campaign highlights the sizes and types of co-operatives in Wales and the sectors in which they operate. It’s inspired by the Rochdale Pioneers, who are among the forefathers of the co-operative movement.
Today’s post looks at the work of David Jenkins, Chair of the Wales Co-operative Centre.
“It’s not every day that you get asked if you want to be a Pioneer. I can just about remember being awarded with my Scout Pioneering badge back in the 1960s, but that was all about tying knots and building rope bridges. So what have I done to warrant receiving a ‘Modern Co-operative Pioneer’ tag?
Just over thirty years ago, in 1982, I was a Research Officer with the Wales TUC. It was a time of economic recession (things don’t change much do they?), and there were large scale job losses in steel, coal and the manufacturing industry. The trade unions did what trade unions always do; they campaigned against the closures and redundancies and fought for compensation for their members when the battle to keep the jobs became lost. But collectively, through the Wales TUC, we did something else; we decided to try to support those redundant workers and their communities in generating new jobs and opportunities in worker and community owned co-operatives. And with that the Wales Co-operative Centre was born.
Today, as Chair of the Wales Co-operative Centre, I can look back on the past three decades and more with considerable pride as the Centre has grown to become the largest and most successful co-operative development organisation in the UK. Three decades and more during which we have worked with communities throughout Wales to promote social, financial and digital inclusion and to empower people to take control of their future by forming new co-operative businesses.
Having been personally involved in the setting up of the Wales Co-operative Centre in the early 1980s and having served as a member of its Board since that time, I can say with some certainty that the approach taken by the Wales TUC back in the early 1980s was undoubtedly a pioneering one. It’s an approach which remains unmatched throughout Europe and serves as an example of how trade unions can and should take a leading role in economic development and in supporting co-operative business models.
When asked about our greatest success it’s always tempting to roll out the example of Tower Colliery. A pit and mining community discarded as redundant by British Coal but subsequently transformed by the willingness of its workforce to invest in a successful co-operative mining venture. There can be no doubt that the success of the Tower co-operative and the significant international interest it attracted helped to raise public awareness about co-operation and the role of the Wales Co-operative Centre.
But for me a more fundamental success has been the ability to attract and sustain support from across the political spectrum. It’s no secret to say that the Wales TUC never expected the Thatcher Government to provide financial support for the setting up of the Wales Co-operative Centre. The press release criticising Government indifference to the problems of Wales had already been drafted when we made our pitch to the Secretary of State for Wales. But provide financial support they did; ongoing financial support which, in turn, opened the door to European funding and the Centre becoming seen as an exemplar organisation within Europe.
The continued support which the Centre now receives from the Labour Welsh Assembly Government is perhaps less surprising but certainly no less valued. I was delighted a couple of years ago when the Business Minister, Edwina Hart, took up our suggestion and established a Co-operative and Mutuals Commission, a Commission I was proud to be a part of, to examine the potential for co-operative development in Wales. The Commission’s report, which was published earlier this year, sets out an exciting and expanding role for co-operatives and mutuals and I am confident that we can now all look forward to working with our Welsh Government in developing a more co-operative Wales.
So does that make me a ‘Modern Co-operative Pioneer’? Most probably not; but it reminds me how lucky I have been to have been involved in some very exciting pioneering activity.”
Find out how co-operatives can be helped in Wales, through the business support section of our website.