Not so looney: Lambeth Council’s bid to become a co-operative could be taken up elsewhere

Last night I went to Lambeth town hall in London for the first of a series of public meetings by the council to discuss its plans to become a co-operative.

In practice, the plan means the council will launch a series of pilot projects in which local residents run public services, and will look favourably on other local voluntary and community groups that identify services they think they can run better than the council.
The 70 or so local residents that gathered in the crowded room to discuss the idea seemed keen. But more than one of them said the plan sounded very close to the government’s big society agenda – considered surprising since Lambeth council is Labour-controlled.
Council leader Steve Reed did his best to put some clear blue water between the council and the government. “Big society is about rolling back the state, whereas this is about changing the role of the state,” he said.
He was backed by fellow councillor Paul McGlone, who said: “Big society is people doing something for nothing, and we don’t believe in that.”
Both were keen to say that, despite the recent announcement that Lambeth would cut its voluntary sector funding for young people’s services by up to 35 per cent from January, the co-operative plan was not just about saving money. It was a better, and more cost-effective, way of providing services, they insisted.
Lambeth is a good place to pioneer the co-operative council model: there is already a strong voluntary sector locally, and a tradition of community activism.
But if the plan proves successful, might the coalition government look beyond party politics and encourage other local authorities to do the same? 

9 Responses to “Not so looney: Lambeth Council’s bid to become a co-operative could be taken up elsewhere”

  1. sam S

    Yes the Lambeth cooperative council has the help of the ever present Mr Stephen Bubb (resident and former Lambeth councillor) to help it on its way

  2. Mark Wheddon


    I am the Programme Manager for ‘Local Food’, a £57.5m Big Lottery Funded open grants programme, which has the main aim of making ‘locally grown food accessible and affordable to local communities’.

    It was heartening to read your blog, especially as we are increasingly doing many of the things you say funders should be engaged in.

    Since the launch of our programme in March 2008, we have always placed great emphasis not only on providing support to groups during their application and delivery stages through our Local Food Advisers, but also on encouraging peer to peer support and getting applicant groups to share, learn and improve by telling their stories to one another and sharing their experiences.

    One of the ways we do this is through a series of training events. These take place at pre- application stage and continue when projects have been awarded funding. Although each event has its own individual focus, from looking at how to successfully deliver project outcomes, thinking creatively about their sustainability, or improving their resilience, one of the equally important reasons for holding the events is to allow groups to meet each other, share their successes and problems, and learn from their experiences.
    To date, we have held more than 50 of these events across England, with over 800 people attending and benefiting individually, and then taking this learning back to their projects and communities.

    The value to projects is echoed through their anecdotal feedback:

    “Listening and picking up ideas of how other people overcome similar problems that are shared. Enjoyed learning about and listening to other projects”
    “Hearing about different projects and learning from them. Focusing on sustainability and ways to make the project pay for itself”

    We have bolstered these events by providing groups with an online ‘foodecommunity’, where awarded projects can easily publish their stories, and share good and bad experiences through their blogs. We are in the latter stages of opening this area up to the much wider internet audience. Here are a couple of our more colourful ‘fooderesidents’ blogs as an example!

    Storytelling is vital and forms the backbone of much of our publicity and our efforts to analyse the impact of Local Food so far. Our Local Food ‘Big Review’  demonstrates the impacts the projects continue to deliver.  Allowing and encouraging groups tell their own stories and share their experiences through visual media really brings the projects to life and showcases the real difference they are making.

  3. David Wilcox

    Hi Jude – this is a really important idea, and it’s great that you are championing it. Maybe now’s the time for lift off.

    John Popham and I have been helping Big Lottery Fund explore this further as you’ll see from a series of posts on Guest blogger Will Perrin suggests how hyperlocal sites can help

    Maybe we should co-organise a get-together on this, particularly if BIG would help host?

  4. Thaler Pekar

    Thank you for your insight, Jude! I appreciate your call for training, as, too often, funders ask, as the annual report is going to press, “Quick, we need a story!” Moreover, a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of what a story is, and how to gather and ethically share stories, ultimately hurts, rather than helps the sector and all involved.

    To your point that funders might “encourage different kinds of impact reporting”, the Slingshot Fund is using video as a story collection and knowledge sharing tool, in place of mid-grant reports. You can read more here:

    To help nonprofits gets started in sharing their stories, here is a link to a short article on 7 Tips for Finding Stories:

    Thanks again, Jude.

  5. Alec Leggat

    Distribution is always the probelm, isn’t it? Even when donors support storytelling and case studies as a form of impact reporting it doesn’t often get into the wider public domain. In fact, it often doesn’t get into the narrower domain of the particular sector you work in. It can be quite demoralising producing reports and gathering case studies and facilitating storytelling when you have no idea what the donor does with it beyond a few misguided comments in repsonse to your annual report.

    I also wonder if an increased acceptance of storytelling, hearing the voices of “project beneficiaries” would encourage more stories about how projects didn’t work and an understanding that we can learn from our “mistakes or see the unintended consequences of an intervention.

  6. Jude Habib

    There is a really interesting discussion going on here. Thanks so much for your comments and for contributing. I know that there are some examples of funders really moving in the right direction and offering some great opportunities to the people they fund. I do think that Big Lottery Fund are leading thee Mark and Thaler thanks for sharing those links – extremely useful. Alec perhaps my biggest source of frustration is what you refer to as distribution of content (ie stories) and I’d call cross promotion – I have a 10 channel rule and if orgs funders aren’t using the content across at least 10 different comms channels they aren’t highlighting the story in the best way.

  7. Benwiv

    I could not agree more with the thrust of this article…As an experienced fundraising manager across a range of discplines; trusts/foundations, statutory, corporate and direct marketing (as well as PR/Comms) I often found myself at loggerheads with Directors (although usually not Trustees) who seemed to view ‘telling out story’ as selling out.

    It’s an attitude that I’ve always found baffling and frustrating. Firstly, many of the people who benefit are desperate to tell their story to benefit others and to validate their own experience.Secondly, for most charities, the impact that they have on the lives of the people they exist to support is their ‘business’ – processes and outputs are no more than a means to an end. For a sector that never tires of championing itself as a lone voice of humanity in an increasingly materialistic world, it’s deeply ironic that we never seem to want to put people at the heart of our public message (and if we do they’re very often dry, formulaic case studies).

    Having worked for a medical charity and an overseas development charity, I’ve heard some harrowing stories and others that lift your heart. It’s no exageration to say that some of the people I’ve come into contact with have even changed the way I view the world and my relationships with those around me. It’s profound stuff and draining work, but it’s what we do – it’s the difference we make – and we should celebrate it. Taken as read that it’s done sensitively and ethically, refusing to speak about the work that we do is a betrayal of what we stand for. All too often ‘ethical’ concerns are a fig leaf that people hide behind in order not to push themselves out of their comfort zones.

    With my PR hat on, I’ve always made sure that the charities I worked for have a human face and that stories are shared across print, electronic and broadcast media. I’ve always exceeded my financial targets too and I don’t think that’s any coincidence.

  8. Isabelle Lemaire

    Really interesting article. Thanks for posting on this. Interestingly enough, we’re ( working with two groups of young and vulnerable women in Uganda and Guatemala on Participatory Video and M&E. These girls have been making films with us for the past six months or so trying to find out what are the aspects of girls programming that can make it more or less successful. The girls have been doing this M&E using the Most Significant Change technique and have made some really amazing movies so far. Here is an example of a compilation of those films:

    Would love to keep this discussion going on how we can make sure beneficiaries have a say in the development debate and can actually be agents of change for better AID using participatory media tools.


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