Phew, it’s been a whirlwind 9 months! We’re approaching the homeward stretch of this year’s Cooperate Islington project so I thought it would be good to update you all on where we’re up to.
We started the year with a big focus on spreading the word about Cooperate Islington, and recruiting co-ops to our Brilliant Co-ops programme (small grants + advisor support). This involved spinning up a simple site, a brand, and getting our social media comms going. We reached out to a whole load of networks in Islington and beyond to tell them about the programme and what to expect from the year ahead. We’ve had more than 200 people sign up to our newsletter (and you can do so here if you haven’t already!), and this fantastic article in the Tribune Magazine, and lots of engagement on social media.
Meanwhile we planned exactly how to select co-ops to the Brilliant Co-ops, how to allocate funding and support equitably, and how to track their progress. Some of our advisors have been on the co-op scene for donkey’s years, but some of them are pretty fresh off the Barefoot Co-op Advisors programme. That meant that we had an opportunity to share knowledge and introduce some fresh ideas too.
In March we put together a panel to choose which co-ops we could support and fund. Our panel selected 18 of the 29 applications we received to give funding and 1-2-1 support sessions to. So far we’ve delivered 25 days of specialist support to co-ops, and we’ll be delivering about another 30 days before the end of the programme. One of the co-ops (Empowered Talent) has won a small contract with Islington Council, which is a good start on our mission to get anchor institutions commissioning services from local co-ops.
Alongside the one-to-one training for the Brilliant Co-ops, we also have a programme of public events and workshops. These aim to upskill people working in or with co-ops, and generally raise awareness of co-ops to the general public. We’ve hosted 7 events so far, and we have 7 more coming up between now and the end of the year. These have been attended by 86 people so far.
Working in partnership with Hackney Co-operative Developments means that we’ve also been able to signpost participants to events that they are running, such as the Brickless Networking events, which has added a lot of value to the programme.
Another big part of our work so far has been developing our ongoing strategy. Cooperate Islington is funded for one year by Islington Council, but we want to continue the activities for years into the future. To do that we are setting up a new, independent organisation – a ‘Co-operative Development Agency’. We’re currently concentrating on securing funding and partnerships for this organisation next year, and we have a few applications pending.
Recently we hosted our first Roundtable. 10 people working in the food and catering sector in Islington met and we ran a workshop with them that surfaced common challenges, and then developed ideas for actionable solutions for these. We’re hosting more of these this autumn – focusing on Adult Social Care, Trades and the Green Economy, Credit Unions, Progressive Procurement and Scaling Co-ops. The aim is to introduce people in different parts of the supply chain within a sector, so that they can start working together and meet each other’s needs, including generating revenue (buying and selling from each other).
For me, this is one of the most interesting parts of the projects, because it could lead to long-lasting commercial relationships between organisations in Islington: co-ops need customers to prosper. But it is also one of the biggest challenges. We’ve found it quite difficult to connect with anchor institutions – they’re massive, it’s difficult to work out who the best person to speak to is, and they’re working to their own timelines. Nonetheless, we’ve had some excellent conversations and I think we’re laying the foundation of something really fantastic.
We’ll keep you posted here about how our funding goes and what we’ll be delivering next year. For the time being, please come along to the events and roundtables, and get in touch if you have ideas that you’d like to contribute to the programme.