The Co-operative Group is launching a pilot project to test a new way to organise members. From September 2015, new 'Co-operative Local Forums' in 37 places across the UK will operate for a 6 month pilot period. The Co-operative Local Forum (CLF) concept came from a workstream of the transitional National Member Council on 'sub national structures', and draws strongly on the 'co-operative cluster' concept advocated by Co-operative Springboard since we published our Seven Propositions in February 2014. Workstream and management representatives visited the Chorlton and Whalley Range Co-op Cluster where they saw the ideas in action.
As with the cluster idea, CLFs are informal, involve staff as well as customer members, and are based round a small group of stores. Chorlton and Whalley Range - the original cluster set up by the South Manchester Co-op Members Group working with Springboard Supporters from the (now disbanded) Manchester Area Committee - is one of the new pilots. It has just four Co-op Group stores (plus two funeral outlets and other co-ops such as Unicorn). Some of the other pilots are also small but some are much larger - the Liverpool CLF has 22 stores for example.
The Group wants each CLF to be co-ordinated by a named Member Pioneer. Recognising that this could be a lot of work they will be paying each member pioneer an honorarium, roughly equivalent to the fee paid perviously to area committee members.
The Group is promoting the new CLF concept on its mini-site myco-opcommunity.co.uk. Here the emphasis is much more on how the CLF can help the Co-op to help the local community - a mix of the bottom-up thinking which is so central to the cluster idea and the more conventional, top-down approach taken by the Group in the past. Members will undoubtedly welcome help - including financial help - from the Co-op to organise community activities, but they also want a real say in how local stores are run.
This will be the most interesting area for debate takes place as the new CLFs begin to find their feet.