Co-operation in the UK: from start to finish, developing a support package for Co-ops UK

We are excited when we get asked to design whole programmes of support to organisations and networks. It’s possible in a one-off workshop to spark and see transformational change, given the right conditions, and we aim for ‘catalytic interventions’. A whole package of support gives us and our client the time and relationship to develop greater understanding, mutual learning, and exactly the right mix of agile responsive support that hits the spot. This is one example we’ve been working on since 2012, with Co-operatives UK.


Amazing things sometimes grow from seeds sprouting in different places, from rhizomes bursting up through the soil into the air to grow and blossom. So it has been with the Co-operatives UK training programme that we’ve been heavily involved with – from conception, through analysing learning needs and co-creating programme design, to delivery.



The United Nations International Year of Co-operatives was celebrated in the UK with an inspiring global festival of events and exhibitions, Co-operatives United in autumn 2012 in Manchester. We’d already started talking to Co-ops UK about the possibilities of running ‘soft skills’ trainings to complement the primarily governance and financial management support and training that was on offer in the British co‑operative movement at the time. So this was the perfect opportunity for us to have face-to-face conversations with co-ops about their training needs, and to survey co-ops’ training needs through questionnaires. This complemented an online survey we co-designed with Co-ops UK and enabled us to do a broad learning needs analysis. At Co-operatives United, we also go to have fun offering ‘games for activists and non-activists‘ workshops!

From the learning needs analysis, Co-ops UK were able to give the green light and could select the training topics that would be designed specially for workers’ co-ops, in the first instance. We also came up with a plan to co-deliver the programme with other training co-ops, and Co-ops UK made contact with some to bring them in to the process, in late 2013.

In the meantime, in summer 2013, Rhizome co-facilitated a two day workshop on facilitation for Co-operatives UK staff, which was a real pleasure from start to finish. It’s amazing to get two whole days with any group to properly delve into facilitation – issues, formal and informal skills, challenges, planning meetings, and a good helping of practice. And from the surveys filled out in advance, through to their levels of participation during the workshop, the staff through themselves into it and thus got lots out of it. As a trainer, it’s always rewarding to see participants learning journeys, the moments of realisation and change.

co-op-handsThe design stage of the process and of the different workshops with other co-ops and Co-ops UK was dead interesting, and many thanks for this chance to Co-operantics, Dynamix and Lancaster Seeds for Change. We learnt from each others’ different approaches to training, with each co-op taking a lead on the design of a different workshop, inviting comments from the other trainers. At Rhizome, rather than making the most obvious choice to lead on ‘Effective Meetings and Decision‑making’, we decided to focus on the ‘Communication and Working with Conflict’ module, and took up the gauntlet for the introductory ‘Being a Good Co-op Member’ training session. Making a round-five were ‘Strategic Planning and Managing Change’ and ‘Accountability and Delegation without a Boss’.

Rhizome_iconOne advantage Rhizome has is that we are a sizeable group of trainers and facilitators coming from diverse experiences and backgrounds. As with much of our work, we put the extra time into discussing as a group and commenting on the session plans for this co-operative training programme, so that what is developed is the fruit of our learning from each other, and deliver the most benefit for the end participants. With the way the design process for this overall training programme was conceived, we were also able to share our ideas and experiences with the other trainers taking a lead on different training sessions.

In 2014 we were all busy delivering the workshops we’d designed, in Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, London and Manchester, evaluating and reviewing our session plans in time for the 2015 programme. Through all of these it was a treat to meet people from many different kinds of co-ops, each with their own areas of expertise and their own organisational cultures, and to get to know what needs and challenges co-operative businesses on the ground are facing. In 2016 the training programme has become part of a bigger package of support on offer to co-ops, The Hive, and we continue to play a part in making this a success. the-hive-800


Right now, alongside our other constant work with diverse co-operatives, delivering various workshops and facilitating communication, development and change, we are excited to be facilitating Co-operatives Congress 2016. By the time you read this, we’ll have met some more of the interesting and inspiring co-operatives out there doing great work throughout the four nations, and have facilitated the sharing of ideas and solutions that will enable the co-operative movement to continue to go from strength to strength.