Co-operation- and how it can work

>> Friday, 17 December 2010

Cooperative Membership Fund

This is a sponsored post...

Here's something I can bet you didn't know about me; my dad grew up living above a Cooperative shop in a small Northern town, which his father managed and which provided a community hub for the locals when supermarkets as we know them today were the stuff of fantasy or tales brought back from across the Atlantic by tourists. I don't know this for certain but I imagine grandad knew all his customers by name - because, back then, that's how things worked in small towns - and that he exchanged pleasantries with them whilst carving them the requisite slices of ham or slicing them the right weight of crumbly Wensleydale.

Dad left that small Northern town more years ago than he might care to think about, but my grandparents stayed on and some of my earliest memories are of visiting that flat with it's icy concrete steps in winter, feeling the heat from the bars of the electric fire burn my chilblains, and huddling under nylon-topped quilts, sheets and blankets... (Why is it always cold up North in my memories, I wonder?)

Since then, the Cooperative has become more than a store and a savings scheme (remember the stamps?); it's now also a mainstream bank that punches above it's weight not only in terms of customers but in terms of ethical codes of practice, holding true to it's name and remaining a body run for the benefit of all it's members than just for a small handful of share-holders.

I was particularly interested to learn about their initiative The Cooperative Community Fund. This is a charitable foundation which receives donations from a group of public-spirited members who chose to give a percentage of their twice yearly share of profits to be used for the benefit of the larger community in their area. This year's total was £1.2 million and is to be allocated within the geographical area that money is received from.

Projects are allocated by postcode, and grants vary from a minimum of £100 to £2000. That may not seem a lot in today's world of high finance and telephone number mortgages, but even that much can make a positive difference if spent wisely.

Why was I asked to write about this? Because they are looking for applicants. I was tasked with thinking about an example; something that money could be spent on in my local area that would have a positive long-term benefit on the community (note: a group does not need to have charitable status to apply for one of these grants), will address a local issue, support co-operative values and principles, and ideally be innovative in it's approach.

Hmmm. I live in Russia, remember. 'Co-operative' is not a word that get's bandied around very often here; it smacks too much of pre-1991 and communism. 'Every man for himself' is more like it, if I'm honest. You only have to travel on the metro in rush-hour to see that. Unless of course you're talking about in a family environment, where everything is shared equally and one person's trouble is the problem of all. The problems arise, however, when a person has no family, for whatever reason that might be. I've recently become involved with - in a very minor way - a charity that helps with that, giving orphaned children not a home or care, because that is already - to a point - provided by the state, but which helps to give them the tools to deal with the outside world once the umbrella organisation looking after them moves them out of their institutions into a semblance of every-day life.

Now unfortunately, £2000 isn't going to provide much tuition for these children (teachers need to be paid, overheads need to be funded), but what it could do is provide them with some interactive tools to help them practice budgeting - even in gaming form, for example - and which might simulate some of the real-world decisions they could be called upon to make once they leave their 'home'. I read recently about a new computer game which simulates the effects on the world of certain environmental policies; make the wrong one, for instance, and India is flooded or Spain becomes a waste-land. I'm not a gamer, but I'm sure there must be similar games out there which do the same job but with real life situations.

And whilst it may not seem like a very worthy way of spending this type of grant, anything that could stop the young people I'm writing of being persuaded to swap their government-funded flat for a new wii, for example (and this does happen), and then finding themselves homeless as a result because they had no proper understanding of the ramifications of their decision, can't help but have a positive effect on the local environment, surely?

Cooperative Membership Fund

Click here to find out more about the application process to qualify for one of The Cooperative Community Fund Grants

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