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Social Co-operatives: A New Model of Social Care in Wales. Discussion Paper

Please comment paragraph by paragraph on the Blog version of this document, on the menu above at Social Co-op Grassroots

1. We will not be able to meet the challenges and respond to the increase in social care needs with a single, uniform approach. Wales Progressive and Newport Co-operators believe that social care co-operatives are an important part of the mix because the co-operative model champions ethical values and principles as well as economic success through self-reliance. Responses to the challenges will depend on local needs and circumstances, including the level and quality of local authority and other provision.

2. The provision of social care service co-operatives have developed over the past 35 years since they were first established in Italy. This model empowers services users, their families, paid staff and volunteers to participate in the design and delivery of services best suited to them. This is what distinguishes co-operatives from other social enterprises such as mutuals.

3. Most co-operative models also encourage active involvement of local community interests. They attract low cost communal forms of capital, and active involvement with statutory planners and service providers. A Social co-op should not be regarded as an alternative to properly funded public services, but rather as complementary and additional to them. They are a means of testing how those services are conceived, designed and delivered.

4. The concept of co-operative principles we have promoted over the last few years could be applied beneficially to the provision of social care. The co-operative movement and statutory authorities have largely accepted our model. The challenge now is twofold. First, to translate that theory into practice and show that multi-stakeholder social care co-operatives are a viable alternative in Wales. Second, to improve wellbeing and the quality of services to our ageing population.

Next Steps

5.  Last summer a small steering group was brought together to take these issues forward and issued a draft consultation document. This however had a limited response. Possibly because we did not make it sufficiently clear that it was not our intention to direct developments from the centre.

THIS paper considers  how to take this matter forward in developing a social care co-operative movement in Wales and is the approach being adopted in Newport.

6. We need to encourage groups of people to identify needs and ways of addressing them using co-operative principles of self help organisation. This is not about direction from the centre. Deciding what outside support is needed from those with relevant knowledge, experience and expertise is a matter for the local groups themselves to determine.

7. The value of Co-operative businesses has evolved over 160 years as a worldwide movement. A pre-condition for social co-operatives are its members. Leadership must be driven by the grassroots if they are to achieve their potential.

8. Without grassroots initiatives there is no raw material to build upon. One of the main challenges is how we encourage, enable and support the emergence of local social co-operative groups. The use of community development methods can help participants to respond to any external support needs, which they themselves identify - possibly by means of a ‘federal group’that they themselves would elect. This kind of approach will hopefully lead to authentic, sustainable developments that will encourage other groups to participate.

9. We also need to consider how social care co-operatives might communicate with each other and with the wider co-operative movement and to what extent we can assist this process. The Global Media Hub arm of the Co-operative Press can help with this.

10. We can also perhaps learn from the experience of the Scottish Co-production Network. This is an informal and inclusive, "free and open to anyone who is interested in co-production in Scotland". This has a wide remit, but a wider forum involving housing, credit unions, food, food retail, financial institutions, community pharmacy, funeral care, education and time-banking etc might prove very useful. It would enable us to build effective links and a shared sense of purpose that a successful 2012 UN Year of Co-operatives should lead to a 2021 Co-operative Decade.

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Hilda Smith: a tribute by the Chair of the S Wales Area Committee, the Co-operative, 9 April 2013

As I’m sure you are all aware - with the death of Hilda Smith last month at the great age of 94 - Co-operation has lost a great advocate and worker. Hilda was a former member of this Committee and in such circumstances members would normally take the opportunity of a Committee meeting to pay tributes.

Our circumstances on this occasion are rather different as we have Hilda’s son David as one of our current members.

David has intimated to me that he has been very touched and moved by all the letters and cards of sympathy he has received from Co-operative colleagues expressing sadness at Hilda’s passing and for the wonderful contributions she has made.

He does not feel that he could emotionally cope with a series of tributes this evening and in these circumstances what I propose to do, as Chair, is to make a SINGLE tribute on behalf of us all, followed by a period of silence during which we can all privately reflect on Hilda as a person and a co-operator.

I have known Hilda for getting on for 20 years –not as long as some on this Committee have known her – but still a long time. When she joined the South Wales Committee of the Co-operative Group, I think in 2009, she must have been by a long stretch, its oldest “new” member, although she had been a member of many co-op committees before.

She was very active in what can now be seen as a golden age of Co-operation in the 1930’s and was particularly engaged in the campaigning illustrated in the wonderful films of the London Co-operative Society, with themes of Internationalism, Education Pacifism and Feminism. We have to remember, Hilda was not all that far behind the Pankhurst’s and she was born just after the ending of the First World War.

As many of us know, Hilda was completely passionate about what she believed in and was always a strong advocate for the same.  She was always a master of her brief and fastidious in studying her papers and making reasoned and detailed contributions.

She had a powerful intellect but was still very interested in making practical observations about what a store should stock, what services it should give to the customers/ members and how they could be engaged at shop level.

I remember her observing back in the early days of Recession, that the support work of the Co-operative Group, through such things as the Community Divided Fund would become far more vital, as Public Expenditure Cuts bite and she is being proven right.

To think when she arrived in South Wales in 1986, she did not come for a rest, because at the age of 76, she set about with vigour in a whole new co-operative and mutual scene.

 She was instrumental in establishing the Newport University of the Third Age, The Wales Food Alliance- together with David – which had a number of collaborations with the Group. She was a member of the WG Older Persons Advisory Committee and made a considerable contribution to policy formulation. Of late she has been engaged in modelling social enterprises to deliver home care.

I last saw Hilda at the Members meeting last year at St Fagan’s, when the meeting was somewhat hijacked by Disability Rights Protesters.  I will remember her contribution for a very long time. She was not prepared to sit idly by but rose to make an impassioned speech about how Co-operatives had been at the forefront of protecting and promoting the rights of the disabled for getting on for 100 years.

David, Hilda was highly principled, creative, dynamic not just a thinker and dreamer about the Co-operative Commonwealth but who has actually contributed to help make it happen over 60 or 70 years.

We are all the better for knowing her and she has left you with much to live up to!

Brian Rees

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