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Building on the lessons of 2020 for a fairer future with a co-operative difference

By Nick Crofts, Chief Executive of the Co-op Foundation  

Hello, and welcome to my first blog as Chief Executive of the Co-op Foundation. I hope you’re reading this safe and well after a difficult, draining and often depressing 12 months for everyone. 

I joined the Foundation less than six weeks ago – and I still can’t quite believe I’m here! It’s even more amazing that one of my first jobs is to communicate that over the past year, Co-op’s charity has: 

  • Awarded £1.8m in grants to help young people support their peers 
  • Continued funding local projects tackling youth loneliness. We’ve now engaged 26,500 young people since we started our Belong programme.
  • Reached seven million on social media through our Lonely Not Alone campaign, co-designed by young people who’ve experienced loneliness 
  • Committed to helping under-represented voices be heard by funding projects that tackle inequality in tech and on charity trustee boards 

Thank you to all our terrific and talented colleagues and trustees for your hard work and commitment over the past 12 months, and to our partners for what you’ve achieved and learned with us.  

Read more about our successes and learning in our interactive Impact Report, or watch the amazing Amy and Elorm tell their stories in the self-filmed video at the top of this page. 

Our Impact 2020 

It’s only possible to understand the context of our partners’ work in 2020 when you remember what life was like just last February. A Covid virus was being talked about, but few of us could have imagined what damage it would later do to communities, mental wellbeing and young people. 

When lockdown first hit at the end of March, we knew that our most effective response was to commit to flexibility so, that despite the barriers, our partners could continue their vital work to tackle inequality and do what mattered most. 

For our #iwill Fund partner Comics Youth, this meant moving their project online and posting wellbeing boxes to help thousands of marginalised young people feel that they belong. For Eastside Community Trust, this meant shopping for local people who were shielding. And for Beechbrae, this meant pausing work on its Foundation-funded Woodland Centre and focusing, instead, on mental health support for local people. 

And in these responses, we see the very best that co-operation can do.  

As the Co-op’s charity, we are always led by our values. The power of self-help and self-responsibility saw youth workers share what worked in Belong Collectives run by our partner UK Youth. Solidarity and caring meant our Lonely Not Alone co-designers were taking action to tackle the stigma of youth loneliness for their peers. And our belief in democracy meant the young people of our Youth Advisory Group having their say in how we allocated funding for the biggest impact.  

Learning 

As well as our successes, we had a year of learning, too. 

We offered flexibility to partners to use funding and timelines that best supported their communities. As a responsible funder, we will review the ways that worked and how that same that flexibility can be extended beyond the pandemic. We’ll keep learning as we progress through 2021. 

We also committed to helping under-represented groups make a difference that mattered. We will review what they’ve learned and how that can impact on our future funding decisions – and even ourselves. 

2021 and beyond 

We are the Co-op’s charity. We exist to help people challenge inequality and co-operate for change so they can share a fairer future.  

This means embedding co-operation even more greatly into our grant-making and supporting partners and other funders to be even more user-driven, people-centred and collaborative.  

It means building on our thinking and reimagining what the future driven by co-operative values could mean for our plans and our ways of working. 

And, finally, it means further developing our relationship with the Co-op. We already work together on its mission to support young people, funded by Members through the new Community Partnerships Fund. How we collaborate on shared aims and deliver ever-more meaningful change with young people will be exciting to watch in 2021. 

I hope you’ll all join us on our journey. I really could not be more excited.  

And finally. 

Thank you to all the partners who helped us to tell their stories in our Impact Report, including the amazing Amy, Elorm and Ally who filmed their own videos for us.  

2020 was a year where our partners listened, learned and led the way to find new and better ways to support their communities. The only authentic way to tell this story was through their own words. We really could not have done this without you. 

Subscribe to our blog to find out first when we launch new funding and support. I look forward to speaking to you all again soon. 


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