Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

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Happy birthday to Gwynfi Community Co-operative

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Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit Gwynfi Community Co-operative, an independent co-op that has

been serving the valleys village of Blaengwynfi for 30 years and was celebrating an important anniversary.

View of outside of Gwynfi Community Co-operative

Gwynfi Community Co-operative

The shop was set up during the Miners Strike in 1984 and its ethic of providing an essential service to the community is still very much in place now. When it was set up, the intention was to ensure that it was sustainable and offered paying jobs in the community it served. Today they employ eight people.

Two things struck me about the celebratory event. First was that the shop is run by an extremely enthusiastic group of people, both staff and board members. Their commitment to the co-operative went well beyond the shop and deep into the community of Blaengwynfi.  They are constantly looking at the services the community needs and how the co-operative infrastructure can serve them. The shop offers a meeting place for teenagers and the co-operative are looking to take on other services in the community and base them from the shop.

Gwynfi Community Co-operative celebrations

Gwynfi Community Co-operative celebrations

This year the co-operative is offering a community fund to help groups and individuals in the community. It’s a relatively small amount but it will help people in the community who need it directly. In 2015, they are embarking on a drive to update and recruit new members – I wish them luck with that but I have a feeling they won’t need it!

The other thing that struck me was the interest from other communities in investing in setting up community shops and pubs in their own villages. I met a group of people looking to set up a community shop near the Welsh border and, if that worked, to take over a pub in their village at some time in the future too. Another group were looking at starting up a small community shop, while a third group also wanted to take over their village pub. They have realised that the pub is just an element of what is needed for their community hub, and they have started to look at what else could be offered to their community from that base. Things like a small shop, pop up libraries and rooms for health care and beauty services were discussed.

Many communities have the ability to run their own community hubs, be they pubs, shops, community centres or even leisure centres. Many of these can provide sustainable employment. All of them can provide services to a community as well as acting as a strong glue that can keep the community together and ensure that it is able to look after the individual needs of its members.

Congratulations to Gwynfi Community Co-operative, which is an outstanding example of this.

Written by David Madge

December 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Does digital inclusion support do any good?

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Support for people who are digitally excluded is one of the key planks in the Welsh Government’s tackling poverty strategy.  For the last six years there has been a significant investment in this support through the Communities 2.0 programme, which is run by the Wales Co-operative Centre.  The programme is shortly coming to an end, and the Welsh Government is developing its approach to digital inclusion support in the future.  As Dave Brown, the Centre’s Director of Strategic Development & Performance, writes, it therefore seems reasonable to ask: does publically funded digital inclusion support actually lead to permanent, positive changes in behaviour around computers and the Internet?

We know that Communities 2.0 has been hugely successful in providing targeted support to individuals.  Over 52,000 people have been directly helped so far.   Countless more are supported by local delivery partners.  But do these people actually end up online?  Do they get the benefits of being connected?  Do they continue to use and develop their skills?  Thanks to a new longitudinal study by BT and Citizens Online, we know the answer.  And it’s a resounding “yes”.

The study looked at people helped by the Get IT Together project, which is supported in Wales by Communities 2.0.  They tracked people attending training sessions and surveyed them when they did the session, and again two years later.  The study found that 60% of those who did not have home Internet access at the start went on to install it.  Many without a home connection accessed the Internet through public points like libraries, or used connections of friends and family.  Clearly the message is getting through, to the extent that most beneficiaries go on to invest in the “gold standard” of digital inclusion: broadband at home.

It is the direct support to the person who is digitally excluded that brings the benefits.  But digital inclusion sessions don’t organise themselves.  One of the huge successes of the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme has been the way the Wales Co-operative Centre staff have led the planning and co-ordinating of digital inclusion activity locally.  We have brought together partnerships, secured funding and driven organisational change to put digital inclusion at the top of the agenda.

The challenge for us now is to keep it there.

Written by Mark Smith

November 10, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Co-operative working in Bron Afon

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We’ve received a guest blog post from Duncan Forbes, Chief Executive of Bron Afon Housing, looking at how co-operation runs through his organisation and how they’re currently working with young people:

“A group of young people are seeing a building being transformed into starter flats, following the spark of an idea they had three years ago.

Bron Afon’s Youth Forum has worked together to give us the best possible advice on meeting the needs of housing for young people.

After all, who else is best placed to solve the housing problem for young people? Our work as a co-operative starts with our youngest members.  They have won awards and spoken at national events about how they organise themselves and get things done.

Suzy Sorby, a member of Afon Youth, and she said: “Due to such an interest with young people and homelessness, in 2011 Peter Mackie, a Cardiff university lecturer attended one of our youth forums and said ‘By 2020, housing for young people will be extremely limited’. This is where the seed was planted.”

Suzy Sorby with Afon Youth

Suzy Sorby with Afon Youth

Three years later and a lot of research and advice from the group has led to our decision not to demolish an unused building, but instead convert it into eight starter flats. They told us there’s a gap for young people living on their own for the first time, to get support if they needed it.

We have set up Own 2 Feet Living to follow this up and enable young people to live independently, in affordable rented accommodation.

They also wanted young people to learn construction skills so eight volunteers are spending a day a week on the building site, being mentored one-to-one by our trade staff.

They will come away with the experience  of working on a building site through courses such as ‘asbestos awareness’ and ‘working from heights’ and be ready to take the standard qualification needed to work in construction.

Bron Afon TyRosserYoungPeopleTy Cyfle will open later this year for young people who are in work, education, volunteering or training.

Bron Afon’s approach to mutualism and working as a co-operative on Own 2 Feet has been featured in this national report, The Enabling State, by the Carnegie Trust UK. That report shows that communities can be transformed by organisations being the facilitators and not the leaders on decisions.

Young people have taken the lead with this initiative and provide each other with mutual support, facilitated by the work of our skilled youth team and our volunteers. Working in this way, the group has dramatically changed the lives and life chances of many of its members for the better, including young people who have previously fallen down the gaps between other support and care services, which is referred to in the report as the ‘disadvantaged minority’.

If you want to find out more about our Youth Forum’s approach to co-operative working please let me know.”

 

Written by Mark Smith

August 5, 2014 at 10:12 am

Closing the Jaws of Doom: co-operative approaches to public service delivery

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The “Jaws of Doom” describes the shape you see if you plot a graph showing increasing demand for public services (driven by an ageing population) and reducing public sector resources to meet that need.  It’s this tension that is driving severe cuts in some areas and market commercialisation in other parts of the UK.

That was the background to today’s “Reshaping Services with the Public” conference held by the Wales Audit Office in collaboration with partners including the Wales Co-operative Centre.  The conference was about changing the relationship between those who deliver and people who use services.

The premise is that too many public services are still delivered from the perspective of single service deliverers. The leads to citizens experiencing multiple, fragmented approaches that can result in contradictory and conflicting interventions, poor outcomes for the service user, waste of valuable resources and poor value for money.

An example of a 'jaws of doom' graph

An example of a ‘jaws of doom’ graph

Keynote speaker Professor Tony Bovaird from Birmingham University argued for a radical change in the way we co-commission, co-design, co-deliver and co-assess public services.  We need to centre services on the user, gain their consent and harness their time and the time of others in the community to complement resources paid for from public money.

This sounds a lot like a co-operative model to us.  The Wales Co-operative Centre supports co-operatives and social businesses, and that includes assisting local councils who are considering externalising services to new social businesses.  We help ensure that the perspectives of service users and staff are hard-wired into the governance structures of new enterprises.  We support business plans that stack up financially but are driven by the needs of service users and by broader social good.  This is in sharp contrast to privatisation approaches, where service users can be objectified, and ineffective delivery models can be contractually perpetuated.

And at the Wales Co-operative Centre we try to practice what we preach.  We deliver the Wales Government’s Communities 2.0 digital inclusion programme, and the volunteering model used is a lovely model of co-delivery.  The people the programme helps can themselves become volunteers and influence what the programme delivers.  Not only does this mean value for money but it ensures that the programme stays fresh and relevant to the needs of people who are digitally excluded.

Today’s conference marks the beginning of a long journey for public services in Wales.  If we keep with us co-operative values and explore co-operative models of service delivery, we would be well on our way.

Written by Dave Brown

July 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Modern Pioneers #1 – Marc Jones, Saith Seren

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Co-operatives Fortnight runs from 21st June – 5th July. This year, we’re paying tribute to the Rochdale Pioneers who, along with Robert Owen, were among the forefathers of the co-operative movement.

We’re doing so by showcasing the work of 14 ‘Modern Pioneers’ from the Welsh co-operative sector, through a series of blog posts. Today’s post looks at the work of Marc Jones, Co-owner of the Saith Seren pub which is a community co-operative.

“I chair a community co-operative Welsh Centre in the heart of Wrexham, which has a café bar, regular live music, fundraising events, rooms upstairs for community meetings, a toddlers group and language lessons. We re-opened a historic listed building that had been a pub. We’ve been open for more than two years now without any grants – just the hard work and funds from our members and volunteers.

Big corporations and councils are increasingly pulling out of serving smaller communities in Wales, especially rural areas. Co-operatives and social enterprises are the one way that communities can battle back and take control of their local shops, pubs, services and factories. Co-operatives have to be given far more support to get off the ground, both practical and financial, but the will to develop them is there.

It’s a great way to involve a lot of people in a community project but it can also be deeply frustrating because some of the banks and other institutions, including some local authorities, often don’t understand the nature of the enterprise. We have had to make money from day one and our 150 members have sustained us during some lean times. I’m incredibly proud that we have kept going during an incredibly difficult period of trading, both generally and specifically in Wrexham town centre.

Saith Seren a community co-op based in Wrexham

One of our regulars turned up covered in paint splatters one day and we asked what he’d been up to. His response was that he’d just finished painting the pub toilet walls! We’d been talking about giving them a lick of paint but he went ahead and did it off his own bat. We’re very lucky that our customers will often help out with small jobs and use their trade skills to do the job for mates’ rates.

We employ six people, three full time, and re-opening the pub has helped, in a small way, to revitalise the town centre economy. We also work with other co-operatives and social enterprises locally – North Wales is something of a hot spot for community pubs and Wrexham FC is also owned by its 3,000 members (of which I’m one).” (More from Wrexham Supporters’ Trust later in the Modern Pioneers campaign!)

“We are a bridge for Welsh learners, supporters of the language and others whose Welsh may be rusty, to regain confidence and use the language in a social setting. This is particularly the case in a town just 10 miles from the border. We are also a community hub for many voluntary groups and community meetings.

The co-operative movement has a strong tradition here in Wales, with Robert Owen being seen as a pioneer in his own right by many of us. It’s important that our history is remembered.”

Find out more about the Rochdale Pioneers through a special, interactive photo.

Written by Mark Smith

June 21, 2014 at 9:30 am

Riders of the Storm

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This month, an Oxfam report revealed Wales as one of the places worst hit by a ‘perfect storm’ of hunger and poverty. In a guest blog post for the Wales Co-operative Centre, Kirsty Davies, Head of Oxfam Cymru, asks what can be done to tackle rising poverty in Wales.

Food bank use in Wales is disproportionately high, according to Below the Breadline, produced by Oxfam, with Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust. The Trust gave out three days’ food to 79,000 people for a population of just three million last year, compared to 71,000 in Scotland with a population of over five million.

Benefit cuts, sanctions, low wages and insecure jobs are all driving people to rely on hand-outs to survive. We know Wales tops the tables for low earnings and benefit claims, with 25% of Welsh workers earning less than the Living Wage and 19% of working age people claiming benefits.

These are the stark statistics. The reality on the ground is that thousands more Welsh families have joined the ranks of the ‘precariat’ – people constantly living on the brink of financial disaster, where a broken fridge or a child’s birthday provokes a crisis that leaves the door open to local and corporate loan sharks.

What can be done? The Welsh Government has blunted the impact of some social security reforms, such as keeping up the Council Tax Reduction Scheme after the abolition of Council Tax Benefit and replacing the abolished parts of the Social Fund with the Discretionary Assistance Fund.

At UK level, we are calling on the Government to urgently draw up an action plan to reverse the rising tide of food poverty and to collect evidence to understand the scale and causes of heavy food bank usage. We also want all parties to sign up to protecting the principle of a proper safety net as a core purpose of the social security system.

Work at a FareShare North Wales depot, that helps people who are vulnerable to food hardship

Work at a FareShare North Wales depot, that helps people who are vulnerable to food hardship

Action in communities is just as vital to help people take control of their own lives. Our own Livelihoods projects across Wales encourage vulnerable groups to build up their resilience and self esteem to cope better with whatever life throws at them. The work of Credit Unions, including Credit Union Rent Accounts has never been so important in spreading financial education and managing debt.

We know only too well from our projects that people can react to a money crisis by taking out a pay day loan and soon getting up to their ears in debt through towering interest rates. Such loans can seem the simplest and quickest way out when you are up against it. Build up people’s confidence and widen their knowledge of their options and you can stop them taking this often disastrous step.

In the longer term, we need jobs in Wales with decent pay, not more temporary work and zero hours contracts. Alongside conventional investment and enterprise, we must release the potential for community co-operatives and social enterprises to boost local jobs and help keep money where people live. That is why Oxfam Cymru is part of the campaign for a meaningful Future Generations Bill that will pave the way for a prosperous and sustainable Wales.

Written by Mark Smith

June 17, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Need a LIFT?

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The Welsh Government’s latest ambitious programme to support jobless households was recently launched. The Lift programme is part of the Tackling Poverty Action Plan. I went along to the launch event, at the offices of Cardiff Community Housing Association, to find out more…

Lift recognises that some people in some communities will need more support than others to get, and keep, a job.  With this in mind, the programme will be running across Wales in eight Communities First Clusters (soon to be nine), with the aim of getting 5,000 people into work, or at very least in a situation where they are immediately employable, by 2017.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katywcc

June 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm

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