Roger Sawtell was invited to speak at ICOF’s 40th Anniversary celebration in the House of Commons, 13.10.13; he said:
ICOF started in our living room in Northampton in 1973, with our children running about in their pyjamas. The banks were not helping and I had invited a few people to discuss setting-up what we called a revolving loan fund to finance co-operatives. It became ICOF, linked with ICOM.
Scott Bader chipped-in the first £5,000 and an anonymous donor then responded with a further £5,000 and we were off to a good start. That was forty years ago.
When we started the Daily Bread Co-operative a few years later, a mixed group came to the early meetings. As well as democratic co-operative enthusiasts there were anarchists and activists of all kinds. One used to come with his dog and after some heated debate it was democratically decided that the dog did not have a vote.
At the 1976 AGM, in the meeting room adjacent to Westminster Cathedral, just down the road from this place, Tony Benn was the guest speaker. I was in the chair and noticed that he had brought a large battery-operated tape-recorder and put it on the table in front of him. He told me he was often misquoted by the press and this was his defence mechanism. Then I noticed several journalists furtively creeping into the back of the hall. We gave Tony a round of applause after his inspirational speech and then I noticed that the tape-recorder was not running. “ Oh no”, he said,” I don’t turn it on. Too expensive in batteries.”
Since then, tape-recorders, Tony Benn and the co-operative movement have all changed somewhat. ICOF has changed and flourished (see added chart below) due to the work of many people, not least the current team of Alain, two Ian’s and Anne. There are now a number of organisations offering loan finance to co-operatives and the problem of raising initial finance is largely solved. If you have a viable scheme, you can get usually get a start-up loan.
The urgent need now is good management. We must find, encourage and train young, competent co-operative entrepreneurs with fire in their bellies, concerned to develop a truly alternative economic model. I suspect that a majority of them will be women. With such people we shall see the upsurge in the co-operative movement which is waiting to happen. That’s the message.