In our mutual relations everyone of us has [his] moments of revolt against the individualistic creed of the day … Mutual aid inclinations constitute so great a part of our daily intercourse [that if stopped] human society itself could not be maintained  for even so much of the lifetime of a single generation. Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, 1902.

As 2020 has unfolded we've learnt and experienced a huge amount about ourselves as humans, citizens and co-operators in both our personal and working lives. Perhaps temporarily, values appear to have shifted and different forms of empathetic human behaviour have come to the fore.

For example, not long after the crisis emerged in the UK, we saw the surfacing of mutual aid groups in response to social and community need. Such groups are not new – they are the glue of society – and as co-operators know, mutual aid underpins all of our social relations. 

However, after decades which have seen austerity, immiseration, the fetishisation of individualism and the rise of the political right, their resurfacing and growing centrality are a great resource of hope and perhaps a surprise to us all given recent political tensions.  

Mutual aid and co-operation as a response

Mutual aid has always resonated strongly with the co-operator and those interested in transformation.  As a young woman I read Kropotkin, quoted above, and while the language even then was of its time, the central tenet remains compelling: that it is mutual aid (or co-operation) not competition that has done most to promote and facilitate ethical human development. 

Drawing on ideas of mutuality and reciprocity, the Co-operative movement is responding to this current crisis as well as it can. Co-operatives and co-operative bodies are advocating both immediate damage limitation (as the crisis impacts on co-operatives and their members economically) as well as encouraging and supporting ongoing co-operation.

The most thoughtful and engaging responses suggest that the two are symbiotic, and that more, not less co-operation will aid future (and sustainable) flourishing.  For example, the theme chosen for the 2020 Co-op Fortnight #KeepCooperating shows how Co-operatives UK is focusing on ways to harness the inspirational moments thrown up during this period to help build positive behaviour for the future. Globally, Ariel Guarco, ICA President, reminds us that co-operation is not only for emergencies but: 

“the alternative way to build a fairer, more balanced and, fundamentally, less fragile economy in the face of global challenges such as the pandemic. Or, very little further on our horizon, climate change.”

How we're playing our part

Here at the Co-operative College we have been redoubling our efforts to work with our colleagues nationally and globally in order to co-develop learning and training that is appropriate and useful. We know that we are privileged living in the global north and working in the education sector, and we also know that digital poverty massively disadvantages those without access to the tools to engage and communicate.  Despite this (and we acknowledge there is an irony here), we are adjusting our learning offer so that the focus is centred on a blended approach, with interactive methods and where possible, informed by the spirit of co-production. 

For example, we have launched a Co-operative College community youth series and a learning and development offer that provides self-paced online learning, with links to support programmes around wellbeing and good mental health. 

Our planned co-operative international development webinars are forthcoming and though we have come to the end of our series of free webinars exploring the role of adult education: Reconstructing Society for a Sustainable Future: The Need for Adult Education and Lifelong Learning expect more webinars soon.

We have also joined Vancity Co-operative, Vancouver Island University, the University of British Columbia and Dean Vancouver Community College as part of a COVID-19 Rapid Publication Working Groups on Response: Building Higher Learning Resilience in the Face of Epidemics.

A small grant will enable us to look at food and housing insecurity that has already impacted so negatively on students. We will be looking at how co-operatives might help learning become more resilient in the face of epidemics by creating conditions for belonging, accessible knowledge, caregiving and food and shelter security.

Finally, as a College, we continue to engage with the wider co-operative movement and stay networked with our global friends and visitors.  Close to home we are continuing our work with the incredible local authorities, the public, retail, education and care sectors who are dealing with extraordinary pressures. 

To that end as we live through this, we learn through this, and it is mutual aid that is likely to play a central role in the recovery.

Keep safe and keep well. 

Best wishes and solidarity from all at the College. 

Dr Cilla Ross

Principal and Chief Executive

Further information and contact details

If you have any questions about the above, then please do get in touch.

You'll find contact details for our different areas below. Please note that, like so many organisations, we currently have a number of our team on furlough. If your enquiry is urgent, please get in touch via the button below. This inbox is constantly monitored, with queries distributed to the appropriate member of staff.

Contact us 

For Learning and Development enquiries, including training, contact Angela via [email protected]

For Co-operative University enquiries contact Polly via [email protected]

To reach our international projects team contact Sarah via [email protected]

To chat about our work across the UK, contact Gemma via [email protected]

For membership and events contact Steve via [email protected]

If your question relates to finance, contact [email protected]