Working in partnership: the co-operative way

We’re one of 551 co-ops in the West Midlands working together with the community, for the community. Much of the work we’ve done over the last year could not have been possible without working in partnership with others.

Throughout lockdown, we’ve been working closely with other co-ops in a combined effort to support our communities. In particular, Loaf have gone above and beyond their day jobs, providing bread to schools, local foodbanks and organisations such as ours for those who’ve really struggled.

On top of their next level baked goods, this cooperative-run community bakery based in Stirchley, South Birmingham, also teach bread-making and other skills at their cookery school next door, which was forced to close because of the pandemic but set to re-open at the beginning of next year.

Speaking with Loaf about the decisions they made last year, they explained how, as a co-operative, they put their heads together and looked at ways to get the bread out to their customers, including temporarily doing deliveries on a cargo bike and setting up online orders.

‘By coming together as a group we were able to share the burden and spread the load. That was such a relief to be part of the group like that, that understood how to work as a co-operative, [and] how to work cooperatively. We weren’t looking to one person for answers – we were looking to each other and ourselves.’

A passion for baking, a desire to use bread for good, and enthusiasm to build community through real food were all kneaded together to help keep Loaf afloat, support the wellbeing of its staff members as well as their local community. They baked and delivered bread to organisations and groups across the city, including primary schools, B30 Foodbank, Incredible Surplus, and Solidarity Kitchen.

As community-based anchors, sharing local expertise and capital, co-ops are able to help stabilise communities and sustain ourselves during unprecedented events. Many have said that being a co-operative has made them more resilient.

Whilst a devasting pandemic has ripped through the world, Loaf have been re-organising, finding strength in the people and communities they work with.

‘The pandemic really woke us up to our place in the community, what we needed from it and what we could give back. We received incredible support from our customers which enabled us to support others in turn.

As co-operatives, we’re entrenched in the communities we serve, always supporting those who need it most, and the pandemic saw plenty of these examples both in Birmingham and beyond. In Wales, co-op taxi drivers were offering free taxi rides to key workers, a Liverpool-based co-op bakery delivered pies to ambulance workers, and Co-op Food stores were amongst the first to promise help to struggling food banks because of panic buying.

Despite the sleepless nights and stress-inducing news headlines from the past year, many co-operatives have demonstrated the ability to reorganise, reinvent and co-operate in order to continue and support those who’ve needed it most.

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Photo credit: Loaf
Beccy Crosby
Author: Beccy Crosby