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.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Back to school to discover co-operation

One of the great joys of being part of the international co-operative movement is that one lifetime is far too short a time to know every form of co-operative action around the world. New experiences come along with a wonderful regularity.

I had a great example of that last week when I visited Sir Thomas Boughey High School & Co-operative Business College near Stoke-on-Trent. It is one of the pioneering Co-operative Trust schools developed thanks to the work of the Co-operative College. I expected to find its structure to be co-operative and exciting; it was. School membership was open to parents, learners, staff and the community. But even more exciting was the learning going on there.

Its view of co-operation was drawn from around the world. It captured the richness of co-operative action from all parts of the globe, not just a traditional UK perspective. It was rooted in co-operative values, which had been the focus at the schools even before the co-operative structure. Many decades ago I was part of the group of co-operators that would run co-operative projects in schools and dream of what could be if it became a whole school activity. At Sir Thomas Boughey I saw that dream becoming reality.

If one lifetime isn't long enough, but the early start that the learners at the school are taking will give them a head start on the rest of of us in understanding the wonderful diversity of co-operation around the world.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

New Year wishes

The first day week is always a good time to think about what you hope to see in the coming year. Here are four wishes for the coming weeks and months.

1. That more rural communities start to believe in what they can achieve together
Our biggest single barrier remains of communities not seeing that they can be the solution to the problems they face. Whether inspired by the Big Society vision or driven by the age of austerity, there are real opportunities for more communities to take control this year.

2. That more communities who have saved their village shop will now go further
A number of communities are now on to their second generation of their shop. Inspired by their own achievement, they are taking co-operation as stage further by tackling the other issues their communities face to create multi-purpose enterprises that go far beyond the original shop. Let's see more taking that next step.

3. That even more diverse forms of rural social enterprise will emerge
We've see the shop success spawn the co-operative use of pubs, churches and many other enterprises. Let's see the imagination run riot on solving issues not tackled before.

4. That the Coalition Government recognises that communities shouldn't have to reinvent wheels
The passion for encouraging frontline action is laudable, but those on the frontline want to devote their energy to their community, not in solving problems that others have solved before. Recognising the role of specialist intermediary bodies to spread knowledge is a vital part of helping of making the Big Society a reality on the frontline.