Peter Couchman is the Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation.

The Plunkett Foundation is the organisation which promotes and supports co-operative and social enterprises in rural communities both in the UK and internationally. It provides support, networks and knowledge which offers practical solutions for rural communities that helps to create thriving places where people live and work now and in the future.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Right to Try gets manifesto endorsement

Congratulations to the Co-operative Party for becoming the first political party to adopt Plunkett's Right to Try idea in its manifesto. Whilst the Foundation is politically neutral and seeks to influence all mainstream parties, we are delighted to recognise this endorsement.

Right to Try is a simple idea. All too often communities hear of the closure of a shop just as it is about to close its doors. This then creates an almost impossible task of deciding that the shop could be saved, rallying the community, setting up a new organisation, raising the funds to save the shop etc. All this has to be done before the failed enterprise can be bid for. All too often this results either in having to restart the enterprise or, in some cases, the shop being lost to private housing.

Right to Try calls for the a community to be able to express its interest in trying to save a shop and being given a period of time to put its proposal together. This simple breathing space could save an enormous amount of stress for many communities. It would also encourage shop owners to discuss plans in advance.

We'll be raising this idea with all parties, but congratulations to the Co-operative Party for getting in first.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Plunkett AGM

Annual General Meetings are often not the most inspiring events if you've helped organise them, but our AGM last week left me with a spring in my step.

It wasn't just the pleasure of sharing a platform with inspiring people from Feckenham Village Shop, Community Transport Association and Thames Valley Farmers Market Co-operative. It was the sense of connecting our past with our future. It was great fun to share some of our future plans, but it was also a privilege to celebrate our Irish roots. Ninety years ago, Sir Horace had planned that we would be based in Dublin and Oxford. Well, we managed both but not at the same time! I summed up our links to the past as being an organisation whose head is in Oxfordshire and whose heart is in Ireland.

So we were delighted that the Irish Government sent Minister Tony Killeen to join us in our 90th anniversary. He spoke warmly of the role of Sir Horace and how he hoped that Ireland could learn from the path that the Foundation has taken. Our roots were also represented by John Tyrell who, as head of the Irish Co-operative Organisations Society, represented an older brother or sister to our own as it was created in Sir Horace's middle years and we in his later ones.

It was a great pleasure to see both John and former Plunkett Chair David Button receiving their Plunkett Foundation fellowship to recognise the enormous contributions.

Some organisations forget their past, other forget that they also need a future. I don't think that we could be accused of either on that day.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Back to College

Last week saw me going back to college. Not, I hasten to add, because of the start of the new school year, but two events both held in Oxford. The International Co-operative Alliance Research Conference at Queens College, Oxford was quickly followed by the Society for Co-operative Studies Conference at Ruskin College, Oxford.

Spending several days immersed in academia had me thinking about its relation to our work. It seems to me that there is great opportunity, but the challenge is finding the right people to link with. Put simply, I'd suggest that the academics fell into three distinct groups.

The first are completely dispassionate about co-operatives and approach them with all the passion of one who is about dissect a frog in a biology class. This group rarely manages to connect with the passion of the movement, but is thankfully very small in number.

The second group cares about the sector, but produces work which has little if any application by real enterprises. This is the largest group.

The real value lies in the third group which not only cares but also produces work which could be taken and used on the ground. Few in number, the potential of these of great and Plunkett looks forward to working with them.