March visitors: Co-operative Bank, Roger Sawtell, Worker Co-ops


People from 9 countries visited the site in March.







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Save our Bank’s priorities

In the last Save our Bank newsletter over 400 members voted on the priorities for the Customer Union for Ethical Banking in 2018.

The results were analysed and the main conclusion drawn was that making sure the Co-op Bank’s Ethical Policy stays in place and its integrity is maintained is the number one priority for most supporters.

The top priority for the Union was to engage with the bank on any upcoming review of the Ethical Policy. The prospect of a new review of the Ethical Policy was raised in the bank’s last Values and Ethics report in the summer, but this might be delayed.

Another priority was developing dialogue with the bank’s current owners (the US hedge funds) to advocate that they return the bank to cooperative ownership as and when they sell their stake and campaigning for the bank to investigate options for returning to cooperative ownership and publish its findings.

Plans to create a share fund to build a cooperative shareholding in the bank, and to develop a structured relationship with the bank, were ranked lower. These priorities will be acted on and contact will be made with the biggest shareholders in the Co-op Bank as next steps.

90 new members have been welcomed to the Customer Union since the last newsletter. and it has just been awarded a small (£1,000) grant from Midcounties Cooperative to help it to engage with the wider co-operative movement to raise awareness of the Customer Union and be more effective in holding the bank to account on ethics and perusing a return to co-operative ownership.





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The Fig Tree has become a co-operative


Bruce Crowther began campaigning for Oxfam in 1984 in his spare time. He worked as a vet and persuaded residents and local businesses in Garstang, a small market town, to make a commitment to Fairtrade. Garstang declared itself the world’s first Fairtrade Town in 2000 and inspired the Fairtrade Foundation to develop the Fairtrade Towns campaign.

Since then, over 1,000 Fair Trade Towns in 23 countries worldwide have followed in Garstang’s footsteps. The establishment of the FIG Tree international visitor centre in 2011 was the logical next stage in maintaining Garstang as a beacon for Fairtrade. Read a 2013 account of this remarkable achievement here.

fig tree 3 logo

The Fig Tree relocated to St. John’s Church, Lancaster, but suffered localised flooding before Christmas. The Lancaster Guardian reported: “Terrible floods caused untold damage to one of the most historic buildings in Lancaster”.

Can readers suggest new premises in Lancaster?

Despite being rendered homeless the FIG Tree continued to work for fair trade and trade justice and The Friends Meeting House in Lancaster (below) kindly allowed the Fig Tree to use their premises for meetings and workshops free of charge.

Over 120kg of chocolate were produced, providing a sales income of £6,500. This must be increased in 2018, hence the need to find suitable premises so production can be taken away from Bruce’s kitchen and volunteers can be enlisted.

Following the success of our soya milk chocolate an almond milk chocolate and a vegan white chocolate also using almond milk has been produced. It is available at Single Step wholefood cooperative and The Radish in Lancaster. FIG Tree chocolate is also available online from Ellie Choc Chocolates.

Readers are invited to join the Fig Tree Co-operative

Bruce wrote recently “If you know of an individual, corporate, community group and especially a Fair Trade Town group that may consider joining us we would be most grateful for your support in encouraging them. The flyer (above) is for information and application forms to download are available on our website at:”

The Fig Tree so far has 30 members and its target is 200.  There is one corporate member, the Cooperative Group, and more community group members are needed. All members that sign up before the AGM will be entered into a draw to win a FIG Tree chocolate hamper worth £50, The AGM will be held later in the year when more members have joined and suitable premises may have become available..

Regular messages will be sent to all members every month except January, April, July and October each year when the quarterly newsletter will be sent to over 550 subscribers, including all members.

Contact: Bruce Crowther Executive Director, The FIG Tree:


m: 07526 713255





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London’s Worker Co-ops

This interesting website, encountered by chance, focusses on London’s worker co-ops. Some are well established businesses run in line with co-op ethics, values and principles. They are worker-owned and controlled, providing a wide variety of services and products to members and customers.

Learn more about them by following the links:

London has new and young co-ops, including:

Organiclea is a community food project based in the Lea Valley in north-east London.  They produce and distribute food and plants locally, and inspire and support others to do the same. With a workers’ cooperative at their core, they bring people together to take action towards a more just and sustainable society. They sell foodgrow food and help others to grow food too.  Not only that, but they also connect their work to a wider vision for a more just and sustainable food system locally, nationally and international and  are part of the Land Workers Alliance, the Community Food Growers Network and the Food Sovereignty Movement.

The Black Cat Cafe is a 100% vegan, not-for-profit and cooperatviely run cafe in Hackney.  They are a small workers co-operative that aims to promote an ethical lifestyle. They’ve got a great review in the Hackney Citizen and apparently do the best vegan breakfast in London.

Cycle Training UK is a not-for-profit workers’ co-operative promoting cycling for all.  They have trained over 80,000 people to cycle skilfully and confidently on roads. As well as delivering urban cycling sessions to individuals, schools, workplaces and organisations, they offer maintenance sessions, instructor courses and driver training.

Worker-owned and controlled businesses the UK elect a Worker Co-operative Council, which publishes the excellent Worker Co-op Code, a quick guide to what worker co-ops are all about. It’s been translated and published in several languages. but we’re aiming to grow.

Anyone who is interested in starting a workers’ co-op, wants to convert their workplace into one, or just wants to visit a co-op and meet some of their members – should get in touch with London’s worker co-ops. 




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Risk online banking? The Co-operative Bank’s alternative

As Co-operative Bank branches (and those of several other banks) close in several areas, including Swindon, Warrington, Taunton and Tunstall (above), customers are directed in two directions:

  • to stand in long queues and pay in and draw out money at post offices (a cumbersome process I’m told)
  • or to sign up for online banking.

But online bank fraud is the UK’s fastest growing area of crime – doubling from £60m in 2014 to an expected total beyond £130m this year – and the losses to consumers have in some cases been of the life-changing order of £90,000 each.

The National Audit Office records that the volume of online ‘card not present’ fraud increased by 103% between 2011 and 2016

All web-based services such as online banking are subject to risks such as online theft of your access code/user ID/username, PIN/password, virus attacks, hacking, unauthorized access and fraudulent transactions.

Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory, and one of Britain’s foremost experts on cybersecurity, says he has never banked online – and has no plans to do so. He believes that system has become so weighted in favour of the banks that it is now the customers that carry all the risk. If a man who has chronicled the rise of online banking won’t use it, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Allow customers the choice

A reader who banks with the Co-operative Bank was firmly encouraged towards online banking a few days ago when phoning to transfer funds. The impression was given that this was essential, but when pressed the staff member admitted it was not. Indeed she wavered a great deal more when it was pointed out that her job could well be eliminated with the closing down of telephone operations. The telephone service is more secure and has proved reliable.

The Co-operative Bank’s new chairman, Bob Dench, takes over next month as Dennis Holt retires at 70. In a statement Mr Holt said, “The Co-operative Bank has been through challenging times in the past four years as it has worked hard to fix the legacy issues that led to the crisis it faced in late 2013. It now has solid foundations and a clear pathway to sustainable profitability and robust capital resilience”.




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February event: co-operatives take up Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge


On Friday 16 February from 9.45am – 4.30pm, co-operatives will gather to take up Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge of providing a clear strategy to create a dynamic, sustainable co-operative Britain. 

The organiser, Co-operative Business Consultants is a co-operative consortium of individuals and organisations committed to social justice through solidarity co-ops. We operate in the UK and Ireland. 

Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey will be keynote speaker at the 2018 ‘Ways Forward 6’ conference, an annual event organised by CBC. The event brings co-operative representatives and consultants from across the country together with trades unionists and social entrepreneurs to develop a framework for building a co-operative economy.

The Ways Forward conferences originated in the crisis of the Co-op Group and Bank in 2014 when it was felt that the situation was so important that it required urgent discussion by the co-operative movement and the left as a whole.  The conference was a success and since 2014 Co-operative Business Consultants has organised the annual non profit-making event to keep alight the flame of open, honest and frank discussion regarding the major issues facing the co-operative movement. Past keynote speakers include John McDonnell, Ken Loach, Matt Wrack (FBU Gen Secretary), Angela Rayner and Sheila Coleman (Hillsborough Campaign and Unite).

This year, delegates have been asked to rise to the challenge laid down by Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who commented recently: “I want the public ownership of water, Royal Mail and energy, but I don’t want it to be necessarily a huge state model. I’d rather there was a co-op principle in the way it is run.” and who challenged, “the wider co-operative movement to come forward with your ideas, your enthusiasm, your energy.”

Organisers and sponsors

Sponsors of the conference include leading organisations in the co-operative movement, such as the Co-operative Party and the co-operative umbrella organisation, Co-operatives UK. They share the widespread belief that the British economy is in permanent crisis and cannot solve its productivity malaise without the conscious democratic involvement of employees and consumers in the running of industry, commerce and public services.

This year’s conference, for co-operatives, social enterprises, the labour movement and social justice activists, focusses on discussing how co-operative methods can be adapted and developed as part of Labour’s focus on co-operation as a key part of its economic development proposals – especially regarding national industries such as energy. Trade union involvement will be crucial if this plan is to bear fruit.

Early Bird Offer (payment received by 31st Jan): Organisation delegates £60, Individuals £45. Fees include lunch & refreshments. A limited number of Bursary Places are available.

To book places or get more details, go to our Eventbrite page. Contact Jo Bird 07970 075704 ( further details or media passes, or if you wish to sponsor or have a stall.




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Update: Scotland the Bread co-operative provides fairly traded nutritious bread, locally grown, milled and baked


Nick Drainey in Scots Magazine adds to news of this three year old co-operative, first mentioned in our September post about Co-operative & Community Finance collaborating with other funds to develop community food and farming businesses.

His article, republished on the view from the hill website, focusses first on Andrew Whitley (left) is one of seven directors of Scotland the Bread, which aims to take old varieties of wheat ignored for centuries, grow them organically and create loaves which are more nutritious than anything to be found on supermarket shelves.

A visit in the early 1990s to post-communist Russia enabled him to study sourdough and he then launched a range of naturally-fermented breads that met a growing demand from people in the UK who found they could no longer tolerate factory loaves. Increasingly concerned with the state of British bread, he did a Masters in Food Policy at City University, London, researching the changes in grains, agriculture and baking methods that seemed to be making our basic food less nutritious and less digestible.

For the last three years Mr Whitley has been researching and bringing “heritage” specimens from seed banks across the world, including Russia, the US, France, Scandinavia and the UK. He then grows these seeds, many not used for decades but kept in case they become useful again, with the purpose of discovering the most nutritious grains that can be grown in Scotland.

Scotland the Bread is now using a network of growers across Scotland, including himself, farmers and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, to plant the seeds he has found and see which can grow best in Scottish conditions. Once harvested, they are sent to laboratories to be tested for their nutritional qualities.

Mr Whitley questions the need for imported modern varieties of wheat which he says are based around intensive chemical fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides. As well as having to be fortified with minerals, the modern varieties also cause health problems, there are more of the protein epitopes that are known to trigger coeliac and similar responses in modern varieties than older ones.

Local bakeries, rooted in their communities, can supply fresh, properly fermented bread to nearby customers, conserving nutritional value without recourse to the synthetic additives that are deemed essential for long-distance loaves.

Agriculture and food processing account for 18-20% of UK annual greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing the distance between field and plate, and limiting the use of fossil fuel-dependent inputs and the energy intensity of processing all make sense as part of a joined-up carbon reduction strategy.

Growing more of our own bread wheat would contribute to food sovereignty in an unpredictable global marketplace and, depending on how it is done, could bring meaningful jobs back home too.

Above all, the soaring cost – both personal and financial – of diet-related ill health in Scotland makes creative action urgent. If people, especially those on modest incomes and with limited capacity (including the old and the very young), are to be better nourished, exhortation from health authorities is not enough: there has to be an accessible and affordable supply of appropriate food.

Above all, ‘fair trade’ arrangements between farmers, millers and bakers are needed to ensure equitable rewards and honest prices that also allow for the variability of the weather and thus of grain quality. 




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