This year Co-op Fortnight, the annual UK celebration of co-operation, is a time for reflection. What can we learn from the way co-ops and communities have responded to the pandemic? How can we ensure we build something better for the future?

Co-op Loan Fund brings together the UK’s biggest and smallest co-op businesses in a practical demonstration of the principle of co-operation among co-operatives. It provides unique lending, from co-ops to co-ops. The endowments made years ago by The Co-op Group, Co-op Midcounties, East of England Co-operative Society and Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society have been lent and repaid and lent again so that over £5m has been used to support over 200 co-ops.

The fund has 40 borrowers at present and has kept in close contact with all of them during the crisis, as Ian Rothwell of Co-operative & Community Finance explains:
“Maintaining good communication is vital. Straight away we were asking our borrowers if they needed extra help before it became a big problem. Some said they were OK, others were worried, and all were pleased that we’d got in contact. We’ve provided assistance to nearly half of them.
“Being flexible is also very important and this is one of strengths of Co-op Loan Fund. We tailor our lending to each co-op’s individual needs. I expect some will bounce back quite quickly but for others, such as pubs, it will be a long time before they recover, and we will adapt accordingly.”

The pandemic has confirmed how resilient and innovative co-ops are. Some Co-op Loan Fund borrowers have got busier. These include PrimePac Solutions supplying sanitiser, Valley Organics starting a delivery service, and Rotherham Rise supporting those affected by domestic abuse. Others have found new ways of supporting their communities. These include Greenwich CDA packing food bags, Jazz.Coop livestreaming from musicians’ homes, and Holbrook Community Society starting a takeaway service from the pub while it is closed.

Ian Rothwell has made sure that all borrowers are aware of the various support packages that are available, both the government schemes and also the specific grants including those administered by Power to Change, Plunkett Foundation and the Community Fund.

“During the crisis, organisations that support co-operative and community enterprise have been working together even more than usual,” Ian said. “I expect this to continue.”

Co-op Loan Fund, in common with all lenders, will have to update its risk register to include the risk of another coronavirus pandemic. Ian Rothwell is adamant that the fund will continue to consider lending in any business sector as long as the applications come from democratically-controlled enterprises. He expects that in future various social lenders will work together on combined lending packages to spread the risk.

This is definitely an opportunity for Co-op Loan Fund to #KeepCooperating and build something better together.