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Cooperation is rife.

In the midst of an unprecedented national crisis, with the gloomy tome and tone of government trying hard to make logistics sound like leadership, what is truly striking is the renewed strength of the core values driving our communities – community leadership through cooperation is rife.

Cooperatives themselves are contributing in many ways, but there is a wider social movement taking shape, aided and abetted by social media. And this mildly ironic, natural evolution of collective reflection comes at a moment of social catastrophe, in an immature millenium and at the opening of a difficult decade which follows the stranglehold of austerity and devaluation of public services. ‘No such thing as society.’ Who says?

Countless selfless individual stories of quirky generosity and care abound – a recent favourite was the slightly diffident young man admitting that “I’ve been cooking for the old man next door – he actually likes my food!!”.

Through piecemeal personal effort, joined up by a dramatic new dawn for communications technology, we are plugging gaps in local authority capacity, filling in the holes in human resources, remembering the vulnerable, the homeless, those with health and well-being issues: it is truly remarkable after four years of divisive politics.

Here we have new collaborations between social activists, parents, WhatsApp chatter – trivial yet bringing people together. Around the country, community has come to the fore; it is a pure form of growing public recognition of the interconnected nature of humanity and society.

The initially polite clapping and increasingly robust roaring on of public services has put government voice to shame. Here we have seen the exposure of the weak strategy versus the strong: soundbite vs. solidarity.

Volunteer groups and community hubs have come forward in droves – perhaps this was the intended meaning of the rather bovine ‘herd immunity’ reference. Care in the community is back in fashion. We are collectively snatching hope from the jaws of misery and it is truly inspiring.

This is cooperation. It is simple and it is immensely powerful. Just as the history of the Rochdale Pioneers and their wonderful wheelbarrow of courageous collective action brings a smile of nostalgia and a nod of real respect, a possible future is opening up where we again salute those who embrace collective responsibility and community engagement – and take action because it is necessary to do so.

In time, we may yet recognise that leadership itself is ultimately collective – not directive. Something our network of co-operative schools demonstrate when they share power and responsibility, distribute decision making and engage positively in finding new solutions together. Not because they have to, but because it is a natural expression of shared values and principles. Values matter and principles need practice – and there are signs out there that the time has come when these are better understood. It’s a learning process for all of us in the class of 2020.

Every teacher knows that it is essential to commend, to encourage and look forward with hope and good humour. It’s time for us all to become good teachers, to revisit 2020 vision through the filter of cooperation and community connection, to be less judgemental, a little more receptive and a lot more generous and gentle with each other.

To slightly paraphrase a question put to our recent, really exhilarating national conference by a friend and colleague: Ask yourself ‘How are you cooperative?‘ It’s an exhortation to celebrate your cooperative spirit.

Well done to all of you out there. Now is an amazing time to work with us, to work with each other, to quietly re-discover the cooperative dividend. Do what you can – and thank you. Stay well and stay safe.

Jon O’Connor, National Director of SCS and CSNET

The views in this article are personal. In the next few weeks, we are inviting leading co-operators – educators and others – to contribute articles on how they see co-operation and its place in community, policy and personal life.

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