Community and economic development: building back strong Bristol co-operatives

Community and economic development: building back strong Bristol co-operatives.Dr Anita Mangan and Co-operative Assistance Network Limited (CAN) have recently published a report on co-operatives and community benefit societies in the West of England area. The Building back strong Bristol co-operatives project, which was funded by the University of Bristol’s Temple Quarter Engagement Fund, compiled up-to-date data on the size and health of the local co-operative sector, as well as investigating what ‘build back better’ means to local co-operatives.

Key findings include:

  • Co-operatives and community benefit societies are widespread and successful in the West of England area, covering a broad range of sectors.
  • The co-operative model is resilient. Although the co-operatives faced significant challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic, the co-operative values of membership, solidarity and democracy had contributed to the development of a unique skill set that helped the co-operatives to survive.
  • Start-ups, activism and imagining a better future: people come to the co-operative model with a keen sense of wanting an alternative to ‘business as usual’ in work, housing and community relations. Democracy, joint decision-making and ethical choices are at the heart of the decision to choose co-operation.
  • Co-operation among co-operators: getting and giving advice in a key part of co-operative working. Co-operators value learning from others’ experiences, but equally they understand the important of sharing their expertise as well. Formal assistance is also important and is not just for start-up groups. Issues such as updating their Constitution / Rules / Articles of Association, conflict moderation, accounting and legal problems often require external expertise.
  • ‘Build back better’: co-operators care about community and social justice. Building a more sustainable and equitable society is at the heart of their operations.

Co-operatives are democratically owned and controlled by their members and are almost twice as likely to survive the early years of business, compared to other types of companies. Therefore, they can contribute significantly to a local economy’s ability to recover from crises such as COVID-19. The co-operative and community benefit society members who took part in the study have a drive to make their workplaces and communities fairer, more sustainable and more enjoyable places to live and work. Any attempt to ‘build back better’ needs the democracy, inclusion and fairness of co-operatives and community benefit societies.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • To explore and facilitate online network development, to help co-operatives to find each other, to help customers find co-operatives and to raise the visibility of co-operatives among the wider public.
  • To explore, facilitate and raise awareness of local sources of finance for social and co-operative development.
  • To conduct further research to identify successful exemplars of co-operatives across different sectors in order to promote the co-operative model, raise awareness and build the co-operative support and development offer in the local area.

This report is the result of a short study of local co-operatives and community benefit societies. If you are interested in learning more about co-operatives or community benefit societies, please contact Anita Mangan (anita.mangan@bristol.ac.uk) or Hilary Sudbury (hilary@assist.coop).