‘Newport Social Care Co-operative: Taking the plunge’

Presentation by David Smith, Wales Progressive Co-operators, to Workshop, 1st July 2013

It is good that we meet in Co-operative Fortnight and that we follow up work undertaken during 2012 UN Year of Co-operatives.

Let me say something about myself. I see myself as a change agent, collaborating with others to make a difference.

I see how we take responsibility and support older people as being the hallmark of a good society.

For me the personal is the political. Two short stories:

On discharge from hospital last July my 93 year old mother, Hilda experienced totally inappropriate reablement ‘care’ at the ghastly hour of 7.30am when showering support had been requested. My initial thoughts were … what a shower. The second was we could design and deliver a much better public service.

The second experience was in March 2013. In the weekend before Hilda’s death, we both discovered that a valued third sector home care worker, regularly worked for free one weekend in every month. Surely, we can do better than this?

Let me speak about our five-year coop journey in Wales.

As a publicly appointed lay member representing the Welsh Governments National Partnership Forum for Older People from 2006-2012, Hilda was keen to introduce co-operative delivery of housing and social services for older people, but failed to persuade young civil servants preparing the 2008 Strategy for Older People (SfOP).

Similar detailed evidence was submitted in January 2013 with the same result. It was unclear whether the SfOP consultation manager was actual aware that Welsh Government had announced in the previous July - a Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission.

However, my main point is that service users may be frail, but they can still make a vital contribution. I am sure that John Restakis will touch on the importance of reciprocity in his contribution.

From 2009 Hilda and I conducted a campaign to put social care co-ops on the political agenda. Both of us were elected members of the Co-operative and Welsh Progressive Co-operators obtained early vital support from the Co-operative Group. In 2011 the Co-operative, alongside the Welsh Food Alliance and Public Health Cymru, contributed to the commissioning of international evidence about the social coop movement in Quebec and Northern Italy, which was submitted to a National Assembly Residential Inquiry in January 2012. Jean-Pierre Girard from Quebec was the first person to present evidence to the National Assembly Health and Social Services Committee on 8 February 2012.

During this time, and with the help of others, Ministers and officials signed up to the inclusion of social care coops in the Social Services and Wellbeing Bill 2013. I well remember the Minister saying “this is new” and I responded: “actually it has been around since 1844”. We all laughed!

During this campaign over 20 meetings took place with a wide-ranging audience of 900 people from across Wales. We have every reason to be very grateful for the contribution of Hilda Smith MBE, a distinguished co-operator (1919-2013), Jean-Pierre Girard (Quebec), John Restakis (British Columbia Co-operative Association), Laurie Gregory (chair Foster Care Co-operative), Adrian Roper (Cartrefi Cymru), Emrys Roberts (Cardiff), Dr Ron Walton (Penarth), Dr Neil Wooding (Newport), the Co-operative Cymru/Wales, Mick Taylor (Mutual Advantage), Cllr David Mayer, former Directors of Social Services and many others.

Key points about the embryo Newport Social Care Co-operative

·      As a small voluntary group with a good cause we have been able to attract specialist support from far and wide, with expertise gladly donated.

·      Our key source of help was not the usual suspects – crucially we required specific, local specialist sector advice to build a sustainable enterprise.

·      This points to the key role of local authorities and the legal duty to ‘promote’ co-operatives as set out in draft Welsh legislation.

·      Building support and working with Newport City Council Labour group has been crucial.

·      We made sure that ‘Co-operative Development’ was in Labour’s Newport 2012 local government manifesto.

·      Strong support from the Council Leader, Deputy Leader, Group Chair Group Secretary, key Cabinet Members and others.

·      Activists with a strong track record in co-operative development from the 1970’s, who thoroughly understand and are well connected with the Co-operative Movement.

·      Excellent links between grass roots activity and academics at the University of South Wales and Swansea University.

·      Establishing a good working relationship with Newport City Council officers.

Our steering group

We have assembled a good range of expertise on our steering group: including

·      A former senior UN and DEFRA civil servant

·      A financial adviser from a local Co-op Bank

·      The chair of the carers forum able to provide valuable information about our competitors

·      A former sister in the RGH who runs her own business

·      A well trained care worker made redundant from a council residential home with many friends who are care workers

·      A veteran community development person who has lived in Emilia Romagna

·      A media/IT university specialist, active Co-operator, local Councillor and Council scrutiny chair

·      A keen young co-op activist and local Cllr. who is the Council lead on anti poverty strategy

·      The local Health Social Care and Wellbeing Facilitator - who has assisted in delivering our innovatory approach.

Following a meeting in Malpas with John Restakis in June 2012, lobbying work, and meeting the Council Leader, we initiated a joint steering group with Council officers in January 2013.

We took the initiative and supplied draft terms of reference, which were agreed with council officers and various meetings have taken place.

We applied and received a £2k grant in May 2013 from the Co-operative Groups Co-operative Enterprise Hub scheme for:

·      Development support to move from the initial pioneer group to a full membership structure

·      Research into the local markets for care.

·      Preparation of financial forecasts and viability

At our embryo steering group meeting with our consultant last week, we agreed: “Our starting point will be the provision of practical support in the home in specific small areas, with an ambition to provide personal care”.

Our legal structure will ensure that workers and users / carers have legal rights as members, plus a category for community supporters”.

The intention being that we co-operate not as stakeholdersbut as a “community with a shared interest” in co-production.

“We will actively encourage ‘workers’ and ‘service users’ into membership. And ‘community’ supporters will ensure the range of skills and experience required”.

Our proposal goes to the Newport City Council executive in September 2013.

Key Learning points at the beginning of a long co-op journey

·      We are not a charity, but exist to meet member needs.

·      Member Controlled Enterprises are a great tool for unlocking talent and addressing gender inequalities – in a highly feminised and marginalised sector

·      Focus on quality. 

* Start as you intend to proceed.


·      Be passionate and determined

·      Attract and retain a quality workforce.

·      Access key council planning documents

·      Use 2011 census data in business planning

·      Value the role of volunteers in helping to reduce costs

·      A surplus is essential to sustain the business

·      We are not a cheap option

·      Mobilise support from elected representatives, but specifically in the public interest

·      Diversified funding streams are essential, including private sector clients

·      Focus energy on practical action and less on responding to endless ‘consultations’.

·      Crucially we require specific, and local specialist sector advice, if we are to build sustainable enterprises.

·      This points to the key role of local authorities and the legal duty to ‘promote’ co-operatives as set out in draft legislation.

·      Start up finance!

·      Importance of links between citizen’s action and researchers at international, UK, national and local levels.


Two key issues

·      The Welsh Social Co-op Development Forum, which we helped to initiate, will need to sketch the scale of our social co-op ambition in Wales. What scale is required to achieve a critical mass, whilst maximising resources devoted to care?

·      Could Canada provide useful lessons be learnt on the value of social franchising in delivering an national elder co-operative care programme, with a trusted quality brand for workers, service users and local authorities.


We will not succeed on our own.  As co-operators we realise we can do much more together. In time, we envisage locally accountable social co-ops being established in different Newport communities, with a shared regional back office as we focus expenditure on care, as part of a Wales wide movement.

In summarymy role has been to engineer an enterprise which aims to involve a ‘community of interest in co-production’. Time will tell if we can succeed in establishing a sustainable Member controlled enterprise, which embeds control rights in service users, carers and care workers.

Welsh Progressive Co-operators wish to thank the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, the University of South Wales, Collaborative Communities, the Welsh Food Alliance, the late Hilda Smith, John Restakis, Mick Taylor, Nick Andrews, Neath and Port Talbot CVS, Trevor Bennett our web master, Mike Bowden and many others for their support.


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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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