Call for Stormont to support co-operative model

Tiziana OHara from Co-operative Alternatives with some of the agricultural co-operatives attending the This is What a Co-operative Looks Like event at Stormont. Francis Quinn (left), Paul Quinn (second left) and Francis Conlon (right) from Lough Neagh Fishermans Co-operative with Oonagh Chesney from Fane Valley and Paul Coyle Northern Counties
Tiziana OHara from Co-operative Alternatives with some of the agricultural co-operatives attending the This is What a Co-operative Looks Like event at Stormont. Francis Quinn (left), Paul Quinn (second left) and Francis Conlon (right) from Lough Neagh Fishermans Co-operative with Oonagh Chesney from Fane Valley and Paul Coyle Northern Counties

The Stormont Executive has been urged to do more to support the Co-operative Movement – a vital source of jobs and wealth generation to the Northern Ireland economy.

The call was made as more than 20 organisations went to Stormont to show Northern Ireland Assembly members what it means to be a co-operative.

We feel that Government can play a bigger role in supporting co-operatives. We want them to know what has been achieved by individuals working together with a common aim. There are so many unique and vibrant organisations that make up our sector and we want to show the impact that co-operatives have on local communities, the jobs they create and the wealth they can generate.

Tiziana O’Hara, Co-operative Alternatives

Tiziana O’Hara from Co-operative Alternatives, said: “We feel that Government can play a bigger role in supporting co-operatives. We want them to know what has been achieved by individuals working together with a common aim. There are so many unique and vibrant organisations that make up our sector and we want to show the impact that co-operatives have on local communities, the jobs they create and the wealth they can generate.”

‘This is What a Co-operative Looks Like’ was a showcase event organised by Co-operative Alternatives and Social Enterprise NI with the All Party Group on Social Enterprise and Co-operatives to highlight the impact and diversity of the sector and call for local politicians to get behind the movement.

Ms O’Hara added: “At the beginning of this new mandate, this was an opportunity for co-operatives to enter into a conversation with our political representatives and decision makers about the unique role that all co-operatives have in the building a fairer and more equal society on this island as well as the issues that they face in their development and growth and the important.”

Colin Jess, Director of Social Enterprise NI, said: “There is a growing interest in the social enterprise and co-operatives business model. Increasingly private sector, public sector and politicians are seeking to obtain a greater understanding of how they can work with our members in doing their part in rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy. The co-operative business model can add value and it is great to see this event taking place and the interest and support being shown by local politicians and business leaders.”

This event was an opportunity to explain the breadth and scope of the sector that includes large and small agricultural co-ops, credit unions that have played a huge part in so many communities and newer worker-led and environmental co-ops.

Of the 22 co-ops that went to Stormont, this included four credit unions, the Irish League of Credit Unions and Ulster Federation of Credit Unions; agricultural co-ops including Fane Valley, Northern Counties and Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-operative; environmental co-ops such as Northern Ireland Community Energy, Drumlin Wind Energy and Down to Earth; and several enterprises supporting the community including Loveworks, Evolve Community Broadband, Lacada Brewery and Raglan Development and Renovation Society – as well as Creative Workers Co-operative, CERES Europe Ltd and Ballymacash Football Club, which is in the process of becoming a co-operative.

While the types of co-operatives vary massively, they all have a set of values and a larger co-operative message in common. Co-operatives are member-owned and member-governed enterprises. In co-operatives people come together to access goods and services, to scale buying power, create new products and create economic opportunity not available to them individually. And co-operatives are about sustaining business, fair trade, equitable community growth and natural resources

In addition, community based co-operative can access unique forms of finance. Co-operative Alternatives has introduced the Building Change Trust’s Community Shares, Ready! Project which has helped organisations prepare for a Community Share offer.

The Building Change Trust was established by the Big Lottery Fund with a National Lottery grant of £10 million as an investment for community capacity building and promotion of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland.

Karen Arbuckle, Chair of Co-operative Alternatives and a director of solar energy co-op, Northern Ireland Community Energy (NICE), which has raised £215,000 through community shares said that Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the UK in the community owned renewable energy sector.

She added: “While the Stormont Executive has stated its support for community energy, until a clear energy strategy is published there are many uncertainties regarding the future price of energy and the level of support if any available for community schemes. This lack of support for community energy is indicative of the apathetic attitude of our politicians towards the co-operative movement.

“This is why events like this are so important in raising awareness and showing our elected representatives the important role that co-operatives play in the local economy.”

To find out more about co-operatives or community shares, go to www.coopalternatives.coop.