Preserving the Co-operative Bank’s unique ethics and working for its return to cooperative ownership

In its February newsletter the Customer Union for Ethical Banking, the independent union for customers of The Co-operative Bank, announced a crowdfunding campaign which has 76 days left to run.

The three most important parts of the plan named on the website are:

  • From customers to owners: Setting up a fund to build a cooperatively-owned stake in the bank, starting with some detailed research to make sure we have the right model.
  • Growing the union: Investing in more capacity and working with the Co-op Bank to reach more of the bank’s 3.1 million customers.
  • Changing how other banks work: Use what we learn to systematically influence participation and ethics in the rest of the banking sector.

Save our Bank knows that times are tough, but believes that a real stake and a larger voice in the Co-op Bank can be secured. Every donation, no matter the size, will make a difference and help to make progress towards the planned objectives.

Learn more about the crowdfunder and – if so moved – support the venture here.





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Co-op Funeralcare craft workers, despite vital service during the pandemic, are offered ‘a real-terms cut’

Craft workers at the Co-op Funeralcare factory in Shieldhall Glasgow – the only coffin manufacturing hub for the Co-op in the UK, producing more than 100,000 coffins a year and employing around 50 craft workers – have rejected a pay offer, which they say is a real-terms cut.

Members rejected a revised pay offer which UNITE said amounted to less than 5%. The retail price index of inflation now stands at 12.6%. The union said the offer from the Co-op is “less than half” of the latest estimate of inflation according to the retail price index (RPI), at 12.3%.

They were essential workers during the pandemic – working, when so many were at home, to ensure the supply of coffins at that time, and now, as Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said: “they can well afford to pay fairly”.

A Co-operative Funeralcare spokeswoman said: “In spite of the difficult trading environment, we have offered all of our colleagues at the coffin factory a fair pay increase. We are confident that the combined base pay and production bonus for roles within the coffin factory remain highly competitive.”


They first voted for strike action in August, but the strikes were not called until mid- October.

The workforce walked out for a further week from November 14 and outside the factory, spirits were lifted as passing cars and refuse trucks honked their horns in support of the strike.


In December the union’s industrial officer urged the Co-op chief executive to step in: “The Co-operative values of a different, fairer and better way of doing business have been replaced with a Scrooge-like attitude to the current cost of living crisis our members face” .






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Urban and rural community land trusts and co-housing communities


Related housing movements are described as community-led, participative, resident-led, co-operative, co-living, mutual and co-housing.

Tom Chance, Chief Executive of the Community Land Trust Network, draws attention to an FT article about co-living.


The author, architect Edwin Heathcote, describes a model for co-living in the countryside, developed by Charles Holland Architects, as an eye-catching irregular range of housing around a central communal space. The houses sprout quirky, colourful, toylike pavilions on their roofs, while the yard is a patchwork of green, allotments, trees and play spaces.

Heathcote writes “There seems to be a real dearth of ideas about how rural housing can be done. There’s only one model: the mass housebuilders’ — mostly detached, executive houses based around a cul de sac. The plan is to create a rented accommodation model able to address the needs of a disempowered demographic, the (mostly) young who would like to continue living in the countryside, or to move there and to stay there”.

He adds that one of its real innovations is its rental-only model. In a landscape affected by rampant house-price inflation and second homes (outsiders outpricing the locals): It is a radical departure from the norm, a bottom-up, non-profit approach to a field that has been delegated almost entirely to commercial developers.

Tom Chance (right) points out that across England there are 334 community land trusts and 96 co-housing communities, half of which are in rural areas.

“They have built, or brought back into use, almost 2,000 homes and have at least 7,000 more in the pipeline, ranging from small developments of a few homes to social housing estates and garden villages. They are providing homes, designed and owned by the local community, mostly for low rents or affordable purchase prices, to local people in convivial developments”.

Mr Chance adds that government and industry have supported these approaches in fits and starts and that with the right reforms the next prime minister could make them commonplace.






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Government support for community ownership

In June, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communitiesinteresting website published news of their fund which helps community groups to buy or renovate assets that would otherwise be might be closed, sold, neglected or at risk of damage or collapse.

Assets to the community would include venues and meeting spaces used by the local community, such as community centres, cinemas and theatres, galleries, museums, music venues, parks, pubs, shops (below), sporting and leisure facilities.

Lifestyle extra – Motherwell

The asset must be of value to local people and community groups must be able to run it sustainably for the long term.

Before they can apply, they have to submit an ‘expression of interest’ to the department in a short form. The information given will help it to decide whether the project will be eligible.

Read about different types of community ownership and the challenges involved on this website.





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Community Land Trusts are addressing the housing crisis

Keswick Community Housing Trust

Rebecca Harvey draws attention to Community Land Trusts (CLTs), which are locally controlled and democratically accountable through a membership that is open to all who live or work in the defined community – including occupiers or users of the land and properties that the trust owns.

According to the UK’s CLT Network there are 548 CLT groups in England and Wales running 587 projects. There are over 1,100 completed homes, with a further 7,100 in the pipeline.

Community ownership of the land is protected through CLTs holding their assets in perpetuity, though they do have the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. Assets can only be sold or developed in a manner which benefits the local community; for example, if a home is sold, the cash realised is protected and can be re-invested into something else that the trust’s members think will bring benefit.

Landrake Cornwall

Cornwall CLT was set up in 2006 to combat the proliferation of Airbnbs and has now delivered more than 230 affordable sustainable homes with more in the pipeline and is advising other community-led groups in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Some are for rent, but most are for sale – offered at discounts making them affordable to local people.

For more news and information about CLTs in other countries, read Rebecca’s article here:






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Melin Tregwynt in Castlemorris: another employee-owned business

“This is how it should be done” writes Andy from Wales, drawing attention to a BBC report that Melin Tregwynt in Pembrokeshire is becoming an employee ownership trust to ensure the future of the business.

Regular readers will recall earlier accounts of Go Ape, Richer Sounds, Scotland’s Turnberry Rug Works, the Architects Design Partnership and Aardman of Wallace and Grommit fame moving to employee ownership.

Melin Tregwynt is a woollen mill in a remote wooded valley on the Pembrokeshire coast. There has been a mill on this site since the 17th century, when local farmers would bring their fleeces to be spun into yarn and woven into sturdy Welsh wool blankets

In a wide-ranging BBC Wales report about several businesses, Nicola Bryan records that this third-generation company is now run by Eifion and Amanda Griffiths who employ more than 30 people at Melin Tregwynt in Castlemorris, Haverfordwest.

His grandfather bought the mill, then called Dyffryn, at auction in 1912 for £760 and, after training as an architect, Eifion returned home in the ’80s to help his parents. He was determined to ensure the mill had a future: “We wanted to stay as a Welsh company and we wanted to continue weaving in this part of Wales”.

A typical ‘tapestry’ design

There is huge demand for their traditional Welsh blankets, “fast out stripping supply”, and after the UK, the company’s largest trade market is Japan: “They understood the power of the story, and the history of product because their own history of craftsmanship is extraordinary.”

Manufacturing at the mill had to stop in the first Covid lockdown but during that time online sales grew. He said their biggest issue was the supply chain: “Getting the yarn in quickly enough, and making it quickly enough to get it out again.”

As they near retirement, Eifion and Amanda Griffiths have decided to set up an employee ownership trust, Eifion said this was a way of ensuring the business does not get sold on and lose its heart.

“If it goes somewhere else the product may not change but the way that it’s made and the circumstances around that and the environment might change and we don’t want to do that . . . We don’t want to preserve it as if it was a museum, but we want to preserve some of the aspects of the traditional way of weaving and this seems to be the best way to do it.”

Their plans mean that the business would “in effect be owned by everybody who’s working in the business”. Employees will be given shares and bonuses while they are working for the company and the management team continue to run the business as before. He and his wife plan to continue in the business for some years but “step back from the day to day and take a more strategic view”.

Derek Walker of the Wales Co-operative Centre said it was natural to consider giving ownership to staff since those employees have helped to build the business. He notes that employee ownership keeps jobs in the local community and is good for the business because great improvements are seen in productivity in sectors from tech to textiles, from restaurants to TV production.






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The Co-operative recognised as the best ESG British high street bank

Nick Slape, Chief Executive of the Co-operative Bank is celebrating the New Year by looking back as well as looking forward. Though c2020 the bank shed 350 middle management jobs, closed 18 branches and wrote down many loans given to businesses struggling during the crisis, its financial performance is now significantly stronger – see the widely reported trading update.

A video records some of the bank’s achievements from the year 1974, when free banking was offered to customers in credit – with a spoken commentary and slides with subtitles in this format:

Early measures noted include the 1992 setting up of its customer-led ethical policy, refusing to finance fossil fuel extraction (1998) and calling for bans on landmines and cluster bombs.

In 2006, 22,000 bank customers lobbied MPs to support a Climate Change Bill (page 3).

More recent achievements include partnering Centrepoint to help homeless youth (2017-2022) and Zero Hour – a youth-led movement creating entry points, training, and resources for new young activists and organizers (and adults who support its vision) wanting to take concrete action around climate change.

In 2021 the bank’s customers were invited to take part in the bank’s sixth Values & Ethics Poll; their responses will help to shape and update its customer-led Ethical Policy; this helps to guide how its business is done and defines the issues customers want the bank to support.

Independent experts Sustainalytics recognised the Co-operative Bank as the UK’s best ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) rated high street bank. This news was published in the bank’s 2020 annual sustainability report – one of a remarkable series of reports.

Nick Slape predicts that 2022 is going to be a memorable year. It will see the launch of the refreshed Ethical Policy and the 50th anniversary of ethical banking.



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Belated: Wednesday 3rd November: participate in the Co-operative Bank research

The Co-operative Bank has asked Save Our Bank to share the invitation below with Customer Union members to participate in the next phase of ethical policy development. If you are interested, please communicate directly with the Co-operative Bank at the address indicated.

The Co-operative Bank have had a customer-led Ethical Policy for almost 30 years and you may have participated recently in their Values and Ethics Poll to help them shape the future Ethical Policy.

The Bank has appointed BritainThinks, an independent research agency, to conduct further research with their customers and they would love to get your input on refreshing the Ethical Policy. The research will involve exploring your priorities for the Ethical Policy. They are interested in hearing your honest and personal views and you do not need to prepare anything before taking part.

The workshop will be a 90-minute virtual group session (conducted on Zoom) on Wednesday 3 November at 17:00-18:30.

If this research is of interest and you would like to opt in, please email with the subject line ‘interested’.

If you are eligible, a member of The Co-operative Bank team will be in touch to confirm your availability. Those who take part will receive Love2shop vouchers to the amount of £50 to thank them for their time.

Saturday 20th November – The Save Our Bank Gathering

In just six weeks we’ll be holding our annual Gathering online. Join us to discuss strategies and actions for returning the Co-op Bank to cooperative ownership, and how we are working to hold the bank to its ethical policy, including through the recent Ethical Poll and the coming policy update. We also expect to have a representative from the Co-op Bank who can answer our questions, and members of our Specialist Panel of experts advising us on the ownership question.

The Gathering is free to attend, and will take place in the afternoon of Saturday 20th September, from 1pm. Please register to attend here and you’ll receive details of how to join via Zoom.




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Go Ape, the latest employee ownership recruit

There are now 115 public-sector mutuals in England, including the Behavioural Insights Team, or nudge unit, which works to solve government problems. “The data is overwhelmingly in favour of the mutual model,” says Stephen Kelly, who helped to lead the public sector’s push for employee ownership.

Sharon White comments on the partnership model: “Unlike Amazon, John Lewis is not trying to suck up profit for its founder’s space ambitions. Unlike Next, it is not trying to channel money back to external shareholders. It is trying to do business differently, to broaden its social impact”.

Husband and wife founders of Go Ape Tristram and Rebecca Mayhew

Jonathan Moules reports in the Financial Times that Go Ape, the treetop adventure business with 1000 employees which operates sites across 35 locations in the UK and 16 US states is to adopt the John Lewis employee-owned model.

Husband and wife founders of Go Ape Tristram and Rebecca Mayhew, who founded the highly successful company in 2002, have stepped back from executive roles but will sit on the board of trustees of the new entity. They sold 90% of their shareholding for an undisclosed sum to create the new structure, which will pay the company’s full-time employees an estimated £3,200 per year.

Moules comments that this move echoes the actions of upmarket hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds, Richer Sounds, whose founder Julian Richer handed control of the business in 2019 to his 500 staff by transferring 60% of his stake into an employee-owned trust. (See Richer Sounds: another employee-owned company | Concerned Co-operators).

Like Richer, the Mayhews were driven in part by their desire for the company to be controlled by the people that have got to know it as employees rather than third-party investors. “Go Ape has always felt like part of our family,” said Rebecca Mayhew, who together with her husband have stepped back from executive roles but will sit on the board of trustees of the new entity. “We knew deep down we would never be comfortable selling the business to private equity.”

Tristram Mayhew, who has retained the title of Chief Gorilla he took when he was Go Ape’s managing director, said: “We trust and respect the tremendous team we have in place to deliver a successful future for everyone in Go Ape to share.“





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The Co-operative Bank: some good news

The Customer Union for Ethical Banking, the independent union for customers of The Co-operative Bank, reports that the bank turned a small profit in the first quarter of the year – a sign that that the bank is being seen as a more interesting investment. It hopes that some of the large financial sector mutuals will be the next to take an interest.

Money Expert declared the Co-op’s Everyday Extra packaged bank accounts to be the best in the market, next to Nationwide’s, saying “the Co-operative Bank’s account is better if you can meet the terms to earn the maximum cashback and have a holiday booked within the next year.”

The union reviewed the Co-op Bank’s new Sustainability Report and posed some questions to the bank. Their answers are included in this review  and here is a summary of the questions with the bank’s responses.

Topics included financed emissions, as well as several service issues including phone delays, website issues, email; security; third party access to accounts in times of personal crises, and some in-depth comments on the bank’s business banking platform.

The union congratulates the bank on its high ranking by sustainability ratings agency Sustainalytics. It has been awarded “the best ESG rating of any UK high street bank”.

The ratings are used mainly by investors who want to take into consideration the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of the companies they invest in. The bank announced the ranking with a press release claiming that “only 15% of UK adults are aware of their bank’s ESG rating” .


Read the latest Customer Union newsletter here.









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