I was with Becky just now. She is on a personal challenge to visit a co-operative every day in every region of the UK over this, the UK's first ever Co-operatives Fortnight.
One of the staff working at the Co-operative Group, based in Manchester, she has been with a wool co-operative, a community pub, a co-operative farm and windfarm and when she and I meet, she has just been to a co-operative fitness gym.
It is all co-operative, because this is the first ever Co-operatives Fortnight - a big new national campaign to promote co-operation as a model for business and the economy and as a better way for people to live their lives. For now, Becky is inspired. A couple of days more, and I expect her bubbly demeanour to be tested!
I have to be honest - the idea of a fortnight is not new. In the USA, there is Co-operative Month and in Canada, Co-operative Week. We split the difference. Nor is it my idea. The proposal bubbled up in true democratic fashion from the membership of Co-operatives UK, which is the network of all co-operative enterprises - (since 1870, how good does that sound!). But, starting in my new role at Co-operatives UK late last year, after years of advocacy on economic justice and sustainability, I could see the potential.
The fortnight is being launched and co-ordinated by the team here at Co-operatives UK. Following the Fairtrade Fortnight model, we've provided basic tools (posters, ideas, badges, leaflets etc), but there's an incredible energy amongst co-operatives for this, so we now have co-operatives up and down the country running events, open days and promotions during the Fortnight.
I have helped to launch two of a number of co-operatives starting this Fortnight - the People's Supermarket in North London, which will be featured this Autumn on Channel 4, and Think Venue, Think Voluntary Sector, which is a coming together of voluntary organisations in Birmingham. By combining, they want to attract in a slice of the lucrative conference market to the quirky and wonderful venues that the voluntary sector has across the city.
We will also be producing a series of new reports - we're introducing a new formula for co-operation, putting out reports on co-operatives in food and football, producing a major document on the UK's co-operative economy and revealing perceptions of fairness in society.
My first report on neighbours landed us in major features in the Daily Mail,
Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times, which might be a first. Do neighbours matter? All we tend to hear about are problem neighbours and noisy neighbours. In a world of connectivity, we assume that friends are the new neighbours and that, just as we choose what to wear, we choose who to be in contact with. In terms of culture, we are increasingly rootless. But in terms of house and home, little has changed. One in three people live in the same town in which they grew up and a further one in three live within a radius of fifty miles. What is more, while it is easy to take co-operation with others for granted, there is a growing body of evidence that if we get on better with those who live around us, then we are happier and healthier ourselves.
The survey I did offered a thirty year comparison of how the UK has changed in terms of the relationship with our neighbours. The original survey was run in 1982. and fed into a landmark study - Co-operation: the basis of sociability, written by Professor Michael Argyle. What we found is that the UK is half as neighbourly as it was three decades ago. In 2010, the majority of us speak to our neighbours less than once a week.
Even so, the UK is still a neighbour-friendly nation and there are new ways to be a good neighbour. Over thirty million people now take in parcels for their neighbour. Interestingly, we see our neighbours less, but we like them more. We see them as more sociable, caring and friendly.
My aim for this year, through initiatives like this, is to make more people aware of co-operatives, so it would be great if you could, in a small way, support Co-operatives Fortnight. It doesn't have to take much, but here are five easy-to-do options:
* Forward news to your colleagues and friends!
* Visit the website: www.thereisanalternative.coop
* Join the Facebook page: http://s.coop/c14facebook
* Put information about the Fortnight on your website or blog
* Attend a Co-operatives Fortnight event. The list's here: http://www.thereisanalternative.coop/events/fortnight
This is the first year, so we're learning a lot very quickly. But the wonderful news is that activists and co-operators up and down the country like Becky are running actions and events, over 100 at the last count, to promote a more co-operative economy.
We want everyone to join in, be inspired and be co-operative!
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