Co-op Fortnight and the power of co-operation

As part of Co-op Fortnight, we’re reflecting back on the last year and how, as a co-operative working with communities, we pulled together in collaboration to support each other.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an extraordinary, far-reaching effect across the globe. It was something we could never have prepared for and yet something we all had to face.

Supermarket shelves emptied. Services shut their doors. We were told to stay at home, which becomes a very different experience if you live in densely packed housing with little to no outdoor space. Not everyone has broadband they can rely on or a friend or family member to call when feeling lonely or anxious. A very real and tangible fear began to rise in our communities about how those already struggling would be able to survive.

When we paused much of our delivery in March last year to set up emergency responses – food distribution, a befriending phoneline service, virtual activity sessions– many thought we might as well just shut shop and hibernate whilst the pandemic ripped through our communities. Like many across the country, we were simply not prepared to stand by and do nothing.

Pulling together

It was through co-operation and partnership that we’ve been able to step up and do what we can. And we’ve seen just how important co-operative working is, particularly in times of crisis.

The collective, city-wide action has characterised the emergency food response, none of it would’ve been possible without communities, groups, and individuals stepping up and pulling together, doing what needed to be done.

From Ladywood Community Centre and Aston University Student Union sharing their spaces to store and distribute hundreds of thousands of food parcels, to the community groups, faith groups, foodbanks and charities delivering essential supplies in their areas. From the generous donations of food from Fareshare, Incredible Surplus and many others, to the countless numbers of volunteers making all of this possible. Co-operation was the key.

Disparity

Very few have been immune to the impact of Covid. But it’s clear that some have been hit much harder than others. We know that many who received food parcels or a befriending phone call were already in crisis situations. It’s fair (and scientifically accurate) to say that the inequalities that existed long before the pandemic, now have a tighter hold on our communities today.

What now?

As the current lockdown eases, many people are now confronted with the devastating effects the pandemic has brought with it. We’re not out of the woods yet. But collective action and co-operation should not be seen as acts of heroism in times of crisis, rather a way of acting every single day to address the inequalities that have plagued our communities for far too long.

As a co-operative, we’re going to carry on doing what we’ve always done – respond to the needs of, and work with, communities at a local level.

We’ll continue to tackle structural inequalities and co-operate for system change, whether that’s taking action to increase skills and employment opportunities, to support physical and mental health or to improve access to food.

The idea of coming together to support community wellbeing and make sure that no one is left behind is at the heart of every co-operative. 

If this is something you want to be part of #JoinaCoop today, find out more about co-ops: https://www.uk.coop/ or learn more about becoming a TAWS member: https://theaws.co.uk/membership/

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Susan Keung
Author: Susan Keung