With just two weeks to go until our Centenary Conference and an opening day programme dedicated to young people, Councillor Sean Fielding, leader of Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Portfolio Lead for Education, Skills, Work and Apprenticeships, shares his thoughts on what the co-operative movement can do to inspire and attract a new generation.

Councillor Sean Fielding

Why do you think co-operative education is important?

Mainstream education struggles to include different perspectives, ways of learning or thinking. It encourages us all to work independently, and to conform. Co-operative education supports new ideas and methods. It equips people with the skills to build deeper partnerships, to think about organisational structure and what it means for the way an organisation operates, and the impact of our work on the society in which we live.

What do you think the co-operative movement can do to make itself more relevant to young people?

Young people have shown recently their passion for change – the Extinction Rebellion movement, with young people at the heart, is fundamentally about rejecting the mentality of consumption and extraction that underpins so much of our economy. The co-operative movement comes from this same place, arguing for a different basic logic of partnership and putting the community at the heart of the economy. The co-operative movement has all the tools to make a meaningful contribution to the issues that matter to young people, but it needs to be flexible and responsive to young people’s needs and ways of working, rather than waiting for the next generation to discover it.

What do you think are some of the biggest issues facing young people today?

Young people rightly highlight the climate change emergency – it is an issue of fundamental importance that will define all of our futures. Beyond this, we should be hugely concerned that the path of progress where each generation could expect to live longer, healthier and more prosperous lives than that which came before seems to have stopped. Young people today, and particularly those not born with privilege, face growing uncertainty about their prospects for fulfilling careers, their chances of owning their own home, and the openness of the world to them. This is manifesting itself in the spread of youth violence and mental illness.

What solutions do you think co-operation can provide to these issues?

If we are to create new ways of working, new careers, new places, new ways of being together and more opportunities for young people within all of this, cooperation is key. So many of the issues we face come from a system that leaves us increasingly isolated as individuals and as communities, separated and taught to compete. The co-operative movement challenges this, bringing people together in a way that values our skills and based on ideas of shared responsibility and shared outcomes.

What excites you most about being part of our conference?

The conference is an opportunity to celebrate all the fantastic things co-operative organisations are doing, and to spread the word about the difference co-operatives can and do make.

Sean will be speaking as part of an action packed first day at our Centenary Conference and Gala Dinner, taking place at Rochdale's iconic town hall from the 26-28 November. There are still a limited number of £100 tickets remaining, with more information available via the button below.

See more about our centenary conference