The Coop Retail Societies Conference 2024 provided a valuable opportunity to network, be better informed, and thank societies who are actively collaborating with us, writes Harriet English, Plunkett UK’s Head of Engagement.

Without a doubt, attending the Annual Coop Retail Societies Conference is an absolute must-attend event and one of the highlights of my Plunkett year. Not only is the content of the conference informative and insightful, but it is just simply inspiring to spend two days with the UK’s leading co-operators.

It is an opportunity to explore new ideas, share insights into the community-owned business sector (representing 10% of all independent co-operatives UK-wide) and simply celebrate the co-operative movement as a whole.

The conference always neatly balances networking time that is genuinely energising and incredibly welcoming to both new and returning attendees, alongside high-quality presentations.

For example, all delegates benefit from invaluable insights from the Institute of Grocery Distribution into grocery and retail trends to prepare for the trading year ahead and recognise key growth areas.

The conference organisers, Co-operatives UK, never fail to design and deliver a conference that provides great value and feel-good factor to every individual in attendance.

Plunkett at the Conference

For Plunkett, it was a particularly special event to attend this year in Cheshire as it was an opportunity to thank the growing number of Co-operative Retail Societies actively supporting the work of Plunkett UK and the community-owned business sector.

Earlier this year, Coop News shared the announcement of the new network we have formed with a number of Coop Retail Societies, with three core aims:

  • To raise an annual financial contribution towards Plunkett’s free community business service which would be used to support start-up and existing community-owned businesses

  • To utilise Co-operative Retail Societies’ knowledge, expertise and networks for the benefit of smaller community-owned businesses

  • To convene to explore practical ways of supporting community-owned businesses together or independently.

And this support has never been more needed as Plunkett has experienced a 147% growth in request for support in the first quarter of this year alone, compared to the same period last year.

This means that we have already allocated 230 days of business support to community-owned business groups against our target of 500 days across the whole year.

This is cause for celebration as it shows that co-operation is the go-to solution for communities losing much-loved assets and services – but it means that our resources, advice line and advisers are more stretched than ever before.

The likely reasons behind this increase in demand are complicated, and includes the sad reality that a growing number of commercial rural businesses are simply no longer viable.

Rural businesses face the same trading challenges as any other business, but they can be felt so much more acutely in the countryside as rural businesses are less able to apply efficiencies of scale, experience even greater delivery and transport costs, as well as find it more challenging to recruit staff due to rising housing and transport costs.

With the support of Co-ops UK, Plunkett are proud to be working with a growing number of Co-op Retail Societies through the new network, including Midcounties, Radstock, the Co-op Group, Southern and Central – and their support is helping us to meet ever increasing demands on our services.

The conference’s panel session on Principle 6, was a wonderful reminder of the focus on collaboration and mutual support in the co-operative sector, and at a time of unprecedented demand on Plunkett’s community business support services, we couldn’t be more grateful to be welcomed into the Co-operative Retail Sector.

Find out more

We are grateful to groups supporting our Co-operative Retail Societies Network initiative since we launched it at the end of 2023. We would welcome a conversation with those interested in joining us. You can contact Harriet for more information.

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Photos: Plunkett UK and Co-operatives UK