Friday, 26 June 2015

Coming up in Somerset...

All this and much more is available in our latest newsletter - click to download!
We have more news about co-operatives making creative use of Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme; training for Directors of social enterprises; and how Tinkers Bubble is securing their site for the future.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Co-operative Identity in the UK - a disagreement in the co-op family?

Two very interesting consultations are underway at the moment. Here, we have Co-operatives UK continuing its negotiation with the FCA with aconsultation on the co-operative identity; and here, the ICA is asking everyone's views on its interpretation of and commentary on the famous co-operative principles.
On one point, there are signs that these two key organisations for UK co-operators might be heading in different directions. Co-ops UK says:
"If the FCA is to consider participation in any way, high value should be attached to participation through ownership, democracy, capital contribution... The FCA is right to focus on preventing the co-operative form being misused
as an investment vehicle, but should focus...on cases where rates of return [are too high]" The implication appears to be that in Co-ops UK's view, there is no difficulty in mutuals being investor-led.
Meanwhile, the ICA is saying this: "...if members are not users of a co-operative’s services, the reasons for them not being users should be analysed and their right to remain members should be considered... [in] hybrid co-operatives that merge two organisational models [co-operative and investor ownership]... consideration also needs to be given to, what, if any, are to be the voting rights of non-member [ie non user] equity shareholders..." So the ICA seem to be saying the opposite: you cannot normally qualify for full voting membership unless you participate (ie use the services) in some way.
Our approach has generally been more like that of the ICA: we think non-user membership, with strictly limited voting rights, is best for people who bring valuable things to a co-operative but do not in fact depend upon it as its stakeholders do. What do you think? Anyone can respond to those consultations.
[Update: Co-ops UK have told me that they have altered their consultation to stress that "it is possible for members to benefit from the activities of a co-operative in meaningful non-financial way without them having to participate in direct economic exchange" and 'do not advocate investor only relationships'. This is good, but there are still signs that they might be willing to tolerate them.]

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Bite sized training for Directors on 30th June
If you've ever thought the word 'Director' suggests a mysterious world of high finance, dubious ethics and smart suits, we hope we can reassure you - it's a job for anyone, regardless of skills or background. And social enterprises need more of them!
This short training session (coinciding with our AGM, which you're also very welcome to attend) will give you a solid grounding in both the legal and practical expectations of Directorship. It's also important to know how to get the best out of it - for some people it can help build skills, confidence and careers.
Please spread the word about this completely free session - and if you enjoy it we'll be going into more detail with a series of monthly workshops from September.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Ecological Land Co-op covered by the Independent

The Independent on Sunday has a great piece today on the Ecological Land Co-op. This is a project that Somerset Co-operative Services played a key role in initiating ten years ago. An outline paper entitled 'An Ecological Land Co-op' describes a vision of a business that will be "run by and accountable to people who are or intend to be managing land ecologically, which can buy land speculatively for ecological purposes... The co-operative would be financed by a share issue which would give it a ‘war chest’ for making purchases. Having bought land, the co-op can find the best people or organisations to manage it, and put in planning applications... Users can rent the land at a rate they can afford... When projects are well established, they can purchase the freehold, subject only to the condition that the land remains in ecological use." Well, it's here and ready to grow - visit their website to find out more.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

We've been working with the Social Enterprise Mark team to develop rules that are a solid basis for businesses seeking to use this badge of best practice. SEM is all about social purpose and community benefit, which provides an obvious fit with co-operatives; but not all co-op rules are helpful in showing how member benefit and social benefit fit together. We added new options to the Co-operative Rules and, added to the Community Benefit Society and Community Interest Company versions, we now have three great ways to structure a social co-operative.
Visit SEM at to find out more about how businesses benefit from using this brand, and click on 'registrations' or read this briefing to see how Somerset Rules social accounting, stakeholder engagement and ethical business practices put co-operation at the heart of social enterprise.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Our newsletter for February 2015 - SITR yourself in a comfy chair and have a read
Yes, it's newsletter time again. In this issue we look at how Community Benefit Societies are the new co-operatives (and can be just as co-operative as the old ones); how community energy in Somerset is more energetic than ever; we say hello to the all new Social Enterprise Network; and we welcome a brace of new Somerset Rules co-operatives in the arts and events sector.
Best of all, you can get a free Citizen Finance poster listing the best tools for funding social enterprise using people power... form an orderly queue, please.
Click on the picture for the download - or you can find it with all our other newsletters on the 'About Us' page.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Intentional communities with insufficient intent

Our colleagues in Bristol enquired recently as to the results of some work we did a year or so ago with a prospective housing co-operative; we had lost contact with the group, but we knew that they had been on the brink of registering. Alas, a word with the good people of Catalyst confirmed our worst fears; nothing had come of their vision or our labour.
This is not unfamiliar to us. So many times we have met with groups who seemed to have a strong, unifying vision; yet within a matter of weeks the energy is lost. So many seem to share the same dream: the big house, a few acres, employment on site in a workers coop, a few solar panels and a lot of permaculture... On every occasion, there are challenges paying the inflated costs of such rural properties, but with three or four families to share the load, there's usually a way. So what goes wrong?
Perhaps the neuroses of home ownership are part of the story; individual members hesitate over selling their homes, worry over whether they would ever get back on the housing ladder, look for ways in which funds could be released from the co-op in a hurry... Another problem is employment; making a living in any rural location is a challenge, and the early days of founding a community are the worst possible time to be starting up a small business. But often the biggest problem is in fact the heart of the project: the moral, political or spiritual purpose. At first it's a unifying factor, sure, but all too soon it becomes divisive. Turns out people cannot think or live exactly alike, no matter how hard they try. Every attempt at adopting rules, policies, creeds or manifestos ends in disillusionment.
So if you're toying with the idea of an intentional community, don't give up too easily. Don't try and design it from scratch - copy something that already works somewhere. And make it a place where everyone thinks constantly about the shared philosophy - but never, ever talks about it.