Work Together – Share Together: How Co-operative Working Can Help Deliver The Big Society

There are many benefits to working in partnership, whatever the format it takes: collaborations, partnerships, hubs, networking, consortia…even the Big Society, but perhaps in difficult economic times the most important benefit is that of increased income. It is sometimes hard to recognise or quantify the benefits of collaboration, especially in the early days of the relationship. Of course, some people don’t collaborate as they fear a loss of income, people ‘stealing’ contracts or running off with ideas…but that should not be a barrier to co-operative working if everyone can agree on the way of working and a common goal.

Just over 9 months ago, Think Venue Co-operative was formed to help third sector conference and meeting venues come together across Birmingham to form a membership cooperative. In that time the board have strived to bring about change with in local and national businesses, as well as, statutory and third sector organisations by asking them to consider using third sector organisations for events and meetings. By highlighting the value these venues can bring to business Think Venue has made a dramatic impact on Birmingham’s conference and meeting scene by:

  • Delivering a wider choice of venues to customers with an emphasis on real choice
  • Providing an opportunity to find venues that match business CSR values
  • Giving social return on customers spend – with venues using income to support their social aims
  • Demonstrating a cost saving compared to the private sector
  • Showcasing a large scale working example of the Big Society

Birmingham City Council, have been one of the first organisations to recognize the value that Think Venue can bring to them as part of their CSR requirements, but also in terms of helping them with budget savings. In 2009 Birmingham City Council were spending 20% of their conference and meeting needs at third sector venues, but since they have been using Think Venue to find their venues they now spend almost 100% in the sector. Here’s why:

  • Money spent with Think Venue members supports employment, social, community, arts or environmental projects
  • Venues have delivered up to a 30% saving compared to other sector venues
  • Income generated by some venues goes so much further – every £1 spent delivers a multiple amount back into wider society
  • Helps organisations become less grant dependent

“I want to encourage agencies and private corporate businesses to look at Birmingham City Council as an example and to use these local social businesses for their conference and meeting needs. A simple change in procurement can so easily help any business meet their Corporate Social Responsibility” Councillor Paul Tilsley, Deputy Leader, Birmingham City Council

Think Venue is a real example of what collaborative working can achieve and helps demonstrate what the Big Society could look like. A co-operative of conference venues that support community, charitable and social causes by co-marketing and supporting them via a free to use venue finding website and paid membership services. The premiss is simple: use Think Venue to find ethical venues for your meetings or events and the money you spend at the venue allows them to deliver their goals. This results in an alternative income to the loss in grants, but it also does so much more, such as, provide training opportunities for people furthered from the labour market, build stronger communities, helps arts projects, etc. Think Venue, is designed to provide an easy route for the customer to find a venue that meets their CSR objectives.

“Birmingham City Council (BCC) is committed to support voluntary and not for profit organisations (the third sector). The third sector is invaluable to the City often supporting or training some of the most vulnerable people of our community. For BCC staff this means Think Venue is the 1st choice for any meeting or conference needs that cannot be met by internal facilities. To date £955,000 has been spent via Think Venue, helping to safeguard and strengthen third sector organisations which in turn, reinvest in their local community.” Procurement Department, Birmingham City Council

By working together we can all share in the benefits that collaboration and co-operation can bring.

To find out more about then benefits of joining or using Think Venue visit:

  1. Chris Newis Reply

    This is a prime example of what a co-operative can do that no social enterprise can achieve on it’s own. Trotsky remarked that each generation must visit the wardrobe of their ancestors and try on the clothes. When they do that they will learn that Co-operatives pre-date the welfare state and the NHS and are the only legal structure which has ever offered democratic ownership and control and one member one vote. Recent models particularly the CIC model (don’t get me started) are structurally flawed and offer no role for the economic participation of members/workers/users.
    As we go into the period of GP commissioning, ownership and accountability will become paramount and will be seen to be absent from all none co-operative structures. How long before a GP Consortium is registered on the London Stock Exchange, providing similar windfalls for GPs and shareholders that were achieved under the privatisation of utilities in the 1980’s. The call must be to build the co-operative movement. NOW!

  2. Alun Severn Reply

    Chris, You said that at lunch time!! OK — you’re allowed to recycle ideas when they are good… But only if you promise to source the excellent Trotsky attribution…

Leave a Reply