Webinar: Innovation in commissioning co-operatives and community business

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We held a knowledge sharing webinar for commissioners interested in learning about working with co-operatives and community businesses. The event brought together people with experience of co-operatives and community business from both personal and professional perspectives, resulting in a rich knowledge sharing forum.

This webinar supports the report we published with the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) which shares learnings from phase one of the Community of Practice (CoP) established to support the development of co-ops and community businesses.

Rachel Mason, a member of the National Co-production Advisory Group (NCAG) and mother of two sons in their thirties with autism, learning disabilities and complex needs, started off the session: 

What I want you to think about today is how can you get your big current providers to start collaborating and instead of pulling their workforce out of those communities, is there an opportunity for all these different providers to collaborate and have a co-operative of their staff that live in those communities in those villages to work in those communities as well? 

Keep people local, keep people connected and valued.

Jonathan Downs is Corporate Policy Lead at Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and chair of the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network’s Officer Group, commissioning projects to develop Greater Manchester’s co-operative economy: 

In the words of pop group Bananarama ‘It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it’ - that’s what really counts when it comes to working co-operatively. 

Any change in how we design and deliver services is always going to be really hard at first, it tends to get messy when we're doing this kind of redesign process in the middle, but it will often bring about incredible positive results at the end. It is a process and you do have to be prepared to work through that and stick with it. 

This really does mean ensuring that commissioning is co-developed, that it's co-designed, it’s co-produced and it’s co-evaluated with the people who use and deliver the services. 

In my experience, co-operative commissioning really does help prevent poor outcomes by really getting to grips with what people want.

Martin Walker, Policy Advisor at TLAP joined the event to share his experience of setting up a co-operative in Doncaster:  

We had brilliant support from Co-operatives UK (opens new window) in terms of getting going. The difficult bit was working out what it would be, bringing people together, sharing ideas, working out what our value base was, and working out how we might work all those things. 

The easy bit was setting up the co-op, it was straightforward with great support from The Hive (opens new window) at Co-operatives UK. 

They connected us with other co-ops, which is one of the principles. There was also brilliant, local, practical day-to-day support in terms of the setup arrangements, getting going, getting registered. 

Martin was joined by Barbara Booton who has also has a long, strong and successful history of community development work, and who herself has had a spinal injury from a young age, and has been very active in the independent living movement:  

Change isn’t going to happen overnight. I think the best way to do it is to let that change happen from the ground up, to foster it and support it. And where there's pockets of really good practice, where people are doing different things, if that's nurtured, then people will begin to gravitate towards that. 

I think it is really important to foster what's there, look what's out there. I know it's difficult at the time of austerity and so much in the community is gone.  It's difficult to make those decisions about supporting community organisations when it's hard to even keep the core going, but if that doesn't happen then the core is going to fail.

Chloe Gardhouse from the Procurement Team at Islington Borough Council spoke about the development of their progressive procurement strategy: 

Islington’s progressive procurement strategy was agreed in 2020.  We want to build community wealth and support an inclusive economy. We want to make sure as much as possible is spent within the borough, within Islington.  And we want to support Islington residents by creating employment skills training, other opportunities or jobs.  We want better pay, and better terms of employment. We also want to enable local organisations to successfully tender the council contracts. 

How are we going to do this? We want to be transparent, we need to be more agile, to keep things simple, we need to remove jargon and use plain English and to have a shared understanding of language. 

It's still really early days for us, but I feel quite inspired by what I've heard today, so I hope we can move forward.

Nikki Ralph, Head of Strategic Commissioning for Age Well, Adult Social Care Islington Borough Council, added:

The other thing that's happening in Islington is Co-operate Islington (opens new window). That's about giving grants and support to the local co-operatives to help them develop. We're in links with them and we've got some workshops coming up to really learn about how we can better support cooperatives locally.

This is just a taste of the experience and knowledge shared by those who took part in the event.  If you weren’t able to attend and would like to catch up on the meeting in full, you can watch it in full above and follow along with the slides below.