Jewels in the co-operative crown – farmland, dairy, bank and guilds – sold or disbanded

We remember with great regret the surprise sale of the profitable Birmingham Dairy in 2005, the Co-operative Group’s farmland in 2014, the closure of the Co-operative Women’s Guild in 2016, the sale of The Co-operative Travel to Thomas Cook during 2017 and the travails and eventual sale of the Co-operative Bank (2013-17).

One analysis of the bank’s failure referred to “weak corporate governance at board level in both the Bank and its then owner, the Co-operative Group. Those weaknesses, in turn, reflected too much control and influence at executive level and too little challenge at board level”.

This charge was frequently levelled at the Group by members whose protests – recorded in the News under Dave Bowman’s editorship – went unheeded, with disastrous consequences.

This year, the National Guild of Co-operators was wound up, ‘controversially’ as the News journalist put it.

Vic Parks, a member of the National Guild of Co-operators, wrote requesting the postponement of the meeting on 30 March 2019 and the consideration of alternative proposals by the National Council. The complete text may be read here. He writes:

“I, and others, are calling for postponing the SGM so that a group of us, can try and turn the NGC around like a Phoenix from the flames. Because of those involved in the National Council’s abject failure, I will go further and request that the members stand down and allow, in the interim, a “caretaker” group who will try to turn the organisation around. The fundamental aim would be to change a culture of cold and hostile to one of being warm and friendly – true co-operation! Although I am partially “retired” from politics and Public service, I am prepared to become part of the group to use my education skills and organising policy forum experience to help. As I understand it, in 2017, there was £12000 in funds, but the Treasurer has not issued any further financial statement”.

The News reported: “The guild’s executive attributed the lack of active co-operators to the demise of the previous democratic structure at the Co-op Group. Under its old structure, the Group had area committees whose members were involved in their local guild branches, which received funding from the Group” and, less diplomatically, Vic Parks comments:

“At one time, this was a thriving organisation with various branches. One by one, they dropped away. I am led to believe that an important one went en masse . . . it is my view that this was because of disillusionment with the way the organisation was run and its negative, bullying culture . . .”






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Co-op delivers by cargo bike and robot

Business Green reports that the Co-op Group is launching a home delivery service for online grocery deliveries ordered from There is a standard £5 delivery charge and a £15 minimum spend.

The new service will initially be available to shoppers within a four-kilometre radius of a store on the Kings Road in Chelsea, before being rolled out to eight more London stores. Orders will be fulfilled using zero emission electric cargo bikes, from, which provide ‘last-mile’ delivery services to grocers and retailers throughout the UK. electric cargo bikes are fast, reliable, and cost very little to run. James FitzGerald, managing director, said that their range of purpose-built e-cargo bikes can deliver the same amount as a diesel-van over an eight-hour shift but require only 0.5% of the energy.

Other innovations by the Co-operative Group are a recent trial of autonomous robot deliveries in Milton Keynes and a free service by taxi for groceries at eight other UK stores.

In November 2018, the BBC reported that a tiny self-driving robot created by Starship Technologies Milton Keynes was seen navigating the town’s roundabouts, delivering groceries ordered by consumers via a link generated by a smartphone app.

The pods were created by two of Skype’s founders to carry out a number of logistical tasks – and have the ability to travel up to two miles. They have six wheels, a secured compartment where parcels with a maximum weight of 10kg can be transported and can travel at speeds up to 4mph (6.4kmh) per hour.

If a thief attempts to tamper with the robot, or snatch it, the operator can take over – talking directly to the wrongdoer and sending police to the drone’s location. The drone’s nine cameras can also capture the criminal’s face.

The Mail, in a detailed, well-illustrated article with video, reports that these slow-moving bots have been ‘trialled’ across the world, including in Hamburg, Washington and California, delivering everything from groceries to takeaway pizza.






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Co-operative Councils’ update

A report about co-operative councils on this website recorded that the first one was launched in Lambeth in 2012, in response to the financial challenges from changes in central government funding. 

The 22 local co-operative authorities are committed to finding better ways of working for, and with, local people for the benefit of their local community, reshaping public services and creating local democratic economies. They formed The Cooperative Councils Innovation Network whose members include Preston, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Greenwich, Knowsley, Lambeth, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Newcastle (under Lyme and on Tyne, Norwich, Oldham, Plymouth, Rochdale, Salford, Sandwell, Southampton, Stevenage, Sunderland and Telford.

Members agree to adopt co-operative values and principles including social partnership, democratic engagement, co-production, enterprise, social economy and maximising social value. The aim is to enable citizens to be equal partners in designing and commissioning services and determining the use of resources.

In 2014 on this site we read Marie-Claire Kidd’s report that Milton Keynes Council (above) had become the first local authority to declare itself co-operative. Deputy leader Cllr Hannah O’Neill (Labour and Co-op Party) said the move had been spearheaded by council leader Peter Marland (Labour and Co-op Party), but embraced by all parties.

In October 2018 Miles Hadfield reported that Bristol City had joined CCIN. Cllr Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council and Chair of CCIN, welcomed Bristol City Council to the network as its 23rd member:

“Co-op councils are leading the way. We are creating lifelong opportunities to get back in the local economy and there is groundbreaking work to ensure those opportunities remain, like ensuring a Living Wage and continuous training to make economic opportunities sustainable. Co-op Councils are leading on local economy supported by regeneration towards a thriving local economy. There is no point in having shiny buildings without jobs and a vibrant economy.”

Mayor Marvin Rees announced the move in a keynote speech at the Co-op Party conference. Championing co-operative values, he said it is the species that co-operates and learns to work together which survives and thrives.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees (third from left) at the Co-op Party conference with Cllr Chris Penberthy, from CCIN member Plymouth City Council, CCIN head of communications Nicola Huckerby and Cllr Tom Brook from Bristol City Council.

As efforts by local authorities to bring positive outcomes in their communities are being threatened by central government cuts, he added, it is important to increase the power of cities to speak together as a voice shaping national policy.

He paid tribute to Bristol’s thriving co-op sector, which ranges from energy to newspapers, and said he was committed to a “diversity of economy” in the city which would ensure no one was left behind, despite continued austerity. He said council-owned energy, waste and housing companies would ensure money stayed in the city “to invest in social outcomes”. Bristol was beating the targets it had set on affordable housebuilding, he added, and the authority was committed to the Living Wage and to closing the gender pay gap.

Sharon Taylor’s latest news is that CCIN is a partner with the Public Service Transformation Academy in hosting their 2019 Public service: state of transformation conference. This year’s theme is Helping each other out of the crisis and will be held on Thursday 23rd May at the Mary Ward House in London:

“Join over 200 thought leaders and practitioners working on public service transformation to help each other understand what works and doesn’t work in achieving better outcomes for citizens from public service design to delivery”.






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Nutclough Housing Co-operative needs new members

In 2002 Zion Housing Co-op purchased the Nutclough Tavern public house in Hebden Bridge (6-8 Keighley Road) which closed in 2001. The name was later changed to Nutclough Housing Co-operative to reflect the location. News of the history of the Nutclough area was described on this site in 2015.

The housing co-op, currently run by Leeds-based Cornerstone Housing Coop and Greenwood Housing Coop, on a temporary basis, is looking for new members to take on the challenges of refurbishing the property. It has eight or nine bedrooms, most of which would be hard to make accessible, and is best suited to communal living.

Priority will be given to groups wishing to become members of the Radical Routes mutual aid network of co-ops working for radical social change, though this is not only factor that will be taken into account. Read more here:

Nick Sellen:

Emma Charleston, who includes photographs of the garden in her blogspot:  wrote, “Me and Alex went on holiday to Hebden Bridge, and we stayed with Alex’s friends at Nutclough housing co-op. They have the most beautiful, gorgeous, incredible, huge garden, full of ripening fruit and vegetables, quiet places to sit, bee hives, a summer house, and general loveliness”.

New members will need to deal with the challenges of structural work on the roof and some significant refurbishment. The majority of the group will need to be trained in understanding and implementing the co-op’s financial plan. If none of the applicant groups are accepted into co-op membership, they will be given priority in making offers to buy the property from those groups and given advice and assistance in setting up a new housing co-op.

The deadline for applications is 10 March 2019, though expressions of interest are encouraged before then. Applicants should download a questionnaire after 11 January 2019 here. For more information or to express interest, contact





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Lancaster Music Co-op has been given “a new lease of life”


The Lancaster Music Co-op has been operating from a rundown council owned building in Lodge Street for 33 years. A video describes the co-op’s contribution in launching the careers of young musicians who used their affordable rehearsal premises.

In October Lancaster City Council issued the co-op with an eviction notice, prompting a petition and a campaign backed by locals and high-profile musicians

Anthony Robinson, who has been involved with the Co-op since the early days, said the decision was “wholly wrong and indefensible”, and that the Co-op supported people in Lancaster and Morecambe when the area “was on its knees”.

Many questions were then asked about the Co-op’s tenancy agreement with the city council, with references made to “dodgy 80s tenancy agreements”. Questions were also raised about why any major work hadn’t been carried out on the building for the past three decades.

There have been long drawn out negotiations with developers about plans for a new “Canal Quarter” in the city in which, according to the latest issue of Private Eye, the co-op’s premises were scheduled for demolition. Sally Bloomer, a Lancaster musician and independent business consultant said: “Let’s build our own cultural quarter. It might take a bit longer, but won’t it be great?!”

Supporters gather outside Morecambe Town Hall

Lancaster City Council voted unanimously on November 14 to rescind the eviction notice issued to Lancaster Music Co-op

Ward Councillor and current Mayor of Lancaster, Andrew Kay, said there was no reason why Lancaster City Council’s Masterplan for the Canal Corridor could not include the Lodge Street building.

Music Co-op director David Blackwell said he was overwhelmed by the support shown at the meeting at Morecambe Town Hall by members of the public and councillors. He said: “It was unbelievable. I just couldn’t believe it was unanimous. We’re overwhelmed with the support. “We didn’t expect it, we didn’t know what to expect, as we haven’t seen any support for so long.

Chris Barlow, a senior lecturer at the University of Cumbria, and a singer and guitarist in local bands, who said: “The council needs to appreciate how important this is. It contributes amazingly to the health and wellbeing of many”.

Councillor Caroline Jackson said: “We saw from the speeches last night, Lancaster is a community that knows its own mind and is hugely and powerfully supportive of the things it values. That’s why people love living here. Tim and I were privileged to play a strong part in the Co-op’s fight to convince officers and members that the Co-op deserves our support to continue its work and create an even better future. The community sent a message to the council last night and councillors from all political parties recognised that message – listen to us before you act, work with us over changes to our city and together we can achieve great things.”

Councillor Rob Devey, who proposed amendments to Councillor Kevin Frea’s original motion to rescind the eviction notice, said: “The council should accept responsibility for the most urgent structural repairs. “This isn’t the fault of anyone here now, it was a bad agreement in the first place. The council has taken its eye off the ball over 33 years, and to expect the Co-op to take responsibility for these repairs now, that’s not reasonable at all.

The meeting voted to give the Co-op a long-term lease on the building and contribute funding to structural repairs. The council has to offer it a long-term lease on the building by July 2019.

David Blackwell said, “It feels like a new lease of life after all this time. It’s a fantastic building and it’s so nice to be able to save it for the city. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about us moving out, but this has become our home”.






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Save Our Bank – a history


Ryan Brightwell (below left), who works with Banktrack in the Netherlands, is one of the founders of Save Our Bank; he writes the newsletters and compiled the history/chronology below. Wider interests are touched on in his lively Twitter page.

Few of those who have been on board from the beginning will remember every detail in this comprehensive account and visitors to the site (below right, November record) will find the information from its website helpful:

The Save Our Bank campaign was set up in October 2013 when it became clear that the Co-operative Group would be forced to cede control of the Co-operative Bank to private investors. The first instinct for many was to close their accounts – how would the bank keep its famous ethical policy intact once it was in the hands of the hedge funds?

A few, however, thought that rather than leave, it would be better to stay, get organised and use some 21st-century crowd power to make sure the bank stayed ethical, and perhaps even return it to mutual ownership and control.

The Customer Union for Ethical Banking is an independent body representing customers of the Co-operative Bank. It aims to ensure that the bank sticks to its word on being an ethical bank with customer-led values. Members and supporters hope to see an eventual return of the bank to majority cooperative ownership. The union is a co-operative itself, democratically controlled by its 1,500 members and regulated by the FCA. You can read about its governance here.


Late in 2013, a deal was done to plug a huge gap in the Co-operative Bank’s balance sheet. The deal saved the bank, but it left its previous owner, the Co-operative Group, with a shareholding of only 30%, while private investors – including hedge funds – owned the rest.

A group of Co-op Bank customers set up the Save Our Bank campaign with support from Ethical Consumer magazine with two aims: to ensure that the bank sticks to its principles and, with time, to help the bank return to some form of co-operative control.

The Save Our Bank campaign launched in October 2013 with a press release “DON’T PANIC AND STICK WITH THE CO-OP SAYS SAVE OUR BANK”,  as the Co-op Bank entered a period of crisis that left the Co-op Group with only a 30% shareholding (later reduced to zero).We called on customers not to switch, but to stick together. In a few months, 10,000 had signed up to the campaign, including major charities and campaigning organisations.

In 2014 we campaigned for the bank to stick with its ethical policy and teamed up with Unite the Union to demand an ethical approach to executive pay. The bank launched an ethical survey and we scrutinized the process closely, warning the bank that slippage could result in a mass walk-out. We succeeded in getting the chief executive to promise in public that this would not be used as an excuse to water down the policy and that all existing commitments would be retained.

In 2015 the bank launched its new ethical policy, with “nowt taken out” and expanded to cover five pillars: ethical banking, workplace and culture, products and services, campaigning and ethical business. We welcomed the new policy that came as a result.

Next, we needed to move from being a campaign led by Ethical Consumer magazine to an organization in our own right, with a budget to hold the bank to account. We crowdfunded  to establish a Customer Union, smashing our £15,000 target and raising over £30,000 from over 1,500 supporters.

And in December 2015 we launched a campaign including a 38 degrees petition after the bank’s “de-risking” approach sees it close a swathe of accounts for groups like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Then at the start of 2016, the Customer Union was formally established as a co-operative. In July we held a round table with Amnesty UK on the impact of bank account closures on charities and campaign groups. Our work on this together with Amnesty leads to the bank putting in place a reinforced approach to de-risking, with the Values and Ethics team reviewing the impact of account closures. Amnesty’s UK director Kate Allen welcomed the change in practice. We also held our first Gathering in November 2016.

The start of 2017 saw the Co-op Bank put “up for sale” in a bid to further strengthen its capital position. Save Our Bank commissioned a briefing paper, “Capital raising at cooperative banks”, to inform the discussion on how the bank could raise capital in a way that enhanced rather than reduced co-operative ownership or customer control.

After a lengthy search for a buyer, the bank’s existing owners stump up more capital, and in September 2017 the process is completed. The Co-op Group’s stake in the bank falls to zero but the bank remains independent. In December 2017 we held our second gathering at which we elected an expanded six-person board of directors. We also held a vote of all Customer Union members on whether to stay with the bank under the new ownership, in which 96% voted to stay, on a 43% turnout.

In 2018 we published an analysis of the Co-op Bank’s gender pay gap figures compared to the rest of the sector. We also published an analysis of the bank’s Values and Ethics report, as well as the bank’s response to our questions. We developed some shareable images (above) for Facebook to spread the word about the Union (see here and here), and finally held our third gathering, with a speaker from Unite the Union as well as the bank’s new Communications Director Lesley McPherson.

And positive comment on the bank in the press included:

Martin Arnold, Banking Editor, noted in the Financial Times last year, “The bank’s customers have stayed remarkably loyal. The number that have their main current account with the lender — and are therefore the most valuable — has risen from 637,000 in 2012 to more than 650,000 last year”. Advisory service Cascade noted that 85% of these loyal customers cited the Bank’s ethical policy as the main root of their support.

Last month, speaking to the FT in his first full interview since taking the chief executive job in July, Andrew Bester said that the Co-operative Bank is preparing to re-enter business areas including personal lending, expansion of its core retail and SME arms, prioritising investment in new technology.#





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Ownership of Bristol-based film company Aardman transferred to its workforce

Visitors to this site sometimes open the worker co-operatives directory which gives a few examples of co-ops financed by employee buyouts. On rare occasions the owner has given the company to its workers, for instance the company now known as the Scott Bader Commonwealth. Read more here. The supportive work of the Baxi Partnership should also be mentioned.

For 40 years, Bristol-based film studio Aardman have made movies and television shows featuring its stop-motion clay animations Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. 

Founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord have now transferred 75% of Aardman’s shares into an employee ownership trust, which will hold the shares on behalf of the140-strong workforce. The aim is to ensure that Aardman remains independent and to secure the creative legacy and culture of the organisation.

David Sproxton, who is currently managing director, says the question of what would happen to Aardman when he and Peter retired had been raised a few times by staff. For eight years he investigated various options before they decided in April 2018 that it was the right time to take the first step towards retirement.

Aardman’s senior management team will remain in their existing roles and will form the organisation’s executive board. Sproxton will continue as managing director and Lord will stay on as creative director and focus on the company’s feature film output, including a second Shaun the Sheep movie and a sequel to Chicken Run.

Peter Lord and David Sproxton: cropped from the Bristol Post

Law firm TLT advised on the transfer. Ben Watson, partner at TLT and leader of its employee ownership team, commented: “[We] are delighted to have been able to support [Aardman] in the move to employee ownership. The employee ownership model not only helps to ensure independence for the business, it also shares the rewards with the people who contribute to its success. With Aardman’s co-founders looking to the future, giving control of the business to its highly creative and long-standing workforce was clearly a very suitable and positive way to move forwards.”

The employee ownership trust, effective from 5 November 2018, is run by a trustee board, made up of independent appointments and representatives selected by the workforce and the organisation’s board. David Pester, TLT’s managing partner, has been appointed as chairman of the trustee board.

From this website:

A joint statement released by Lord and Sproxton, ended: “The statistics show that employee owned companies are significantly more successful than conventionally owned companies. So we are very excited by the prospect of seeing Aardman roll far into the future under this arrangement and can rest easy that those four decades which have slipped by have paved the way for many more years of great creativity.”





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