Following national Co-Ops Fortnight, which celebrates co-operatives contribution to the economy and community, Oxford City Council announced it will join the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network.
The CCIN is a non-party-political collaboration of 70 councils, political groups and organisations from across the UK who are committed to improving methods of working with, and for, local people for the benefit of their local community.
Joining the network is a demonstration of the Council’s commitment to supporting cooperatives as part of Oxford’s economy.
Councils across the country are facing major financial difficulties as demand for services has increased from the coronavirus crisis, whilst income sources have diminished. Membership of the CCIN will enable the Council to share ideas and best practice to help find innovative ways to deal with these challenges.
How co-operatives are helping Oxford
Co-operatives in the city have been putting the community at the heart of their response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Unlike conventional businesses, cooperatives are set up to deliver social value as well as to earn money. This can mean giving employees power over the running of their organisations, customers influence over the businesses they use or involving local residents to shape vital services.
Rather than working in a traditional top-down model of governance, the cooperative model has enabled the council to work in equal partnership with local people in shaping and strengthening communities and service delivery. Oxford’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak has been marked by its support for the community, local economy and its continued contribution to environmental sustainability, even at a time of crisis.
Through lockdown, businesses across the city have been helping their communities, and two local co-operatives have demonstrated how their social values could support people through the crisis.
As the lockdown has seen a boom in cycling, Broken Spoke Bike Cooperative have launched a repair service and are selling refurbished second-hand bikes. The cooperative has been an active partner in the Bikes for Key Workers Scheme, in collaboration with Active Oxfordshire and Cyclox. This involves collecting bike donations from members of the public, which are then renovated from home by volunteers before being assessed and safety-checked by mechanics. The refurbished bikes are distributed free of cost to key workers across the Oxford city. This has helped to break down barriers to active, sustainable travel, and 120 bikes have been distributed since the beginning of April.
Flo’s in the Park has also responded quickly and adapted to the changing needs presented by the Covid-19 outbreak. The centre’s meeting rooms have served community midwives, helping alleviate pressure from GP and hospital premises and reducing the need for transport. The refill shop has been expanded to provide a greater number plastic-free products to the local community, whilst the café has run a take-away service and provides around 200 free cooked meals per week to at-risk groups in collaboration with partners from across Oxford.
In spite of heavy losses in income, Flo’s has also provided nursery childcare to key worker children throughout the crisis. Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire Community Foundation have provided financial support to Flo’s to help sustain the vital community services it provides.
“We’re committed to supporting co-operatives in Oxford as we build back from this crisis. Joining the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network will help us make sure the city council develops policies that help foster this part of our economy. Many businesses have given amazing support to their local community through lockdown, but as life begins to get busier we want to support more co-operatives in Oxford who will do this all the time. We want to encourage anyone who is interested in setting up a community business to find out more about how being a co-op could be the right way forward.”
Councillor Richard Howlett, Oxford City Council Co-operatives Champion
“Oxford City Council is delighted to become the thirtieth member of the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network. We are excited about working within a Network that is growing in size, strength, and influence because of its agenda for inclusive economic growth. Oxford has long invested in communities and protected frontline services, making use of in-sourcing rather than outsourcing to create income. We look forward to working with fellow members to build community wealth and a resilient economy based on co-operative values.
“Oxford City Council is particularly proud to stand with councils up and down the country that are proposing co-operative solutions to our climate emergency. Our Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change is both an embodiment of this Council’s co-operative spirit and a driving force for further co-operation. At the heart of the ambitious visions of Oxford backed by assembly members were new models for bringing people together. For waste reduction, members backed refill and repair services, clothing swap shops, and clothing rental services. For transport, they supported car club electric vehicles for every ten households. For renewable energy, they voted for “co-operative run local energy generation and distribution [that] creates Oxford-based electricity suppliers that invest in community energy projects” as distinct from largely centralised energy generation.”
Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford