Robert Owen Academy Annual Lecture, 2nd July 2022

The Big Society and the co-operative contribution to Sustainable Communities

A virtual event via Zoom on 2nd July 2022 from 11.00 am to 2.00 pm.

This lecture was the second in an annual series and took place on the 100th International Co-operatives Day. Its aim was to address relevant and topic issues facing local, regional, national and global communities. With participants from France, Uganda, England, Wakes and Scotland this year’s lecture focussed on The Big Society and the co-operative contribution to Sustainable Communities and was led by three knowledgeable, respected and important speakers who have a wealth of community, co-operative and mutual experience:

  • Baroness Sue Hayman, The Co-operative Party, Rural Co-operative Commission
  • Amelia Washbourne, Community Activist, Fresh Start South Wye, Director
  • Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire

Sue Hayman spoke in an engaging and interesting way about the work of the Co-operative Party, Rural Co-operative Commission recognising that over 20 million people live in rural areas of England and face a number of individual as well as common problems such as:

  • Having their voice heard
  • Facing a more difficult transition to net zero
  • Local and regional transport issues
  • A lack of affordable housing
  • Poor stocks of rental housing
  • A knock on effect of the previous two points on recruitment of skilled workers
  • Ownership of local and regional issues
  • Rural “powerlessness” and poor engagement in the decision making process
  • A lack of data on rural inequalities

In response to these issues the Commission was espousing the value of a co-operative approach based on the Co-operative Movements Values and Principles which would enhance the lives of local communities by:

  • Giving citizens greater power of their own affairs
  • Devolve wider and increased powers to local councils
  • Ensure that “levelling up” was made relevant in every community, in every situation
  • Secure effectively resourced health services
  • Develop long term job creation and prospects
  • Ensure that communities were engaged in decisions and the running of education, communications and the policing of their communities

The Commission is developing twelve missions to take its work forward and these will be published as part of the final report.

Amelia Washbourne describing herself as a co-operator and founder of Fresh Start spoke with passion on the role of co-operation and co-operative structures in the local communities and the plans for embedding those structures in the diverse communities that make up the South Wye area of Hereford.

She introduced the historical context of Robert Owen and the 24 Rochdale Pioneers and how they engaged with and changed their communities in response to challenges they faced from the establishment and capitalist structures of their time. She skilfully linked these to the challenges facing the residents of the villages that make up South Wye and went on to describe how she, Fresh Start and the Robert Owen Society planned to meet these challenges and turn them into opportunities for local resident.

Amelia described the:

  • development of a strategic plan and road map that is underway for developing the local villages into Co-operative Villages
  • growth of democratic structures
  • plans to improve lives and make education and training available
  • focus on creating better facilities and creating strong bonds by linking communities together.

 Listen to Amelia’s presentation here:

The final speaker was Jesse Norman, the MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire. The author of a series of books, his focus was on The Big Society which was a product of the financial crash that began in 2007 and has impacted on the world economy since then.  He covered a wide area of history and the modern day raising many interesting and important issues for the consideration of co-operative’s in general and talked in depth about:

  • An emphasis on the individual as a social animal struggling against the internal or differing issues of local and central government
  • A concept of society and communities enabled by the state
  • Building on the richness of society and people’s loyalty to and interest in their communities
  • How society could re-engender civic pride in its communities and building our commonwealth
  • Avoiding the politicising of issues
  • The importance of continuing to focus on building women’s rights especially in the face of the current challenges, if not yet in the UK, in other parts of the world

Jesse’s presentation can be seen here:

****DIARY DATE****

The next Robert Owen Lecture will be at 10am on Saturday 1st July 2023.


Following the considerable success of the Inaugural Lecture in 2021 we would like to invite you to join us at the second Robert Owen Annual Lecture.

The Robert Owen Academy was unique and highly innovative in both it’s community co-operative ownership, it’s curriculum offer and it’s mission to regenerate rural communities. Once the Government announced its closure it was the members’ initiative to hold an annual lecture to encourage innovative approaches to the creation and maintenance of sustainable communities.

Our people understood the scale of the challenge to create and maintain sustainable communities because sustainability must be at the core of all future community planning. Their vision which they seek to develop is that by 2050 most, if not all, rural communities will have:

  • Access to clean air and water
  • Sound economic opportunities
  • A safe and healthy place to raise their young people
  • Adequate, affordable and environmentally sound places of shelter
  • Universal opportunities for high quality lifelong learning
  • A strong sense of community and a commitment to mutual support & responsibility
  • A meaningful democratic say in the decisions – macro & micro – that affect their lives

The Covid 19 pandemic has highlighted many community challenges and shortcomings as well as encouraging some radical solutions. To this must be added the impact of Brexit as well as the current standards of living crisis against a back drop of war in Europe.

We cordially invite you to join us at this seminal lecture to hear from speakers who will propose a range of possible solutions as well as raising new issues. We have every confidence that this will contribute to our mission to seek new approaches to developing and maintaining sustainable communities in a challenging environment.

The Robert Owen Society also refers you to our website at which provides many examples of thriving co-operative communities in the UK and beyond. We

aim to increasingly make it home for new, existing and emerging co-operative and social enterprises in the two countries comprising the Marches area either side of Offa’s Dyke.

These organisations will offer solutions to the international challenges of sustainable communities.

As member owned, values led organisations co-operatives seek to offer effective support to their Marches communities. We live in unprecedented times where innovative ideas have never been more necessary if our communities and our people are to survive, prosper and offer hope for the future to our young people.

This event will be chaired by Geoff Hughes, Consultant and former Director, Herefordshire Council and led by speakers who have a wealth of community, co-operative and mutual experience:

  • Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire
  • Amelia Washbourne, Community Activist, Fresh Start South Wye, Director
  • Baroness Sue Hayman, The Co-operative Party, Rural Co-operative Commission

We hope that you will join us, support our vision and mission and engage with us as we offer co-operative solutions to current and future challenges. There will be a Q&A and discussion seeking pointers for the future.

To book please click on here: The Big Society & the co-operative contribution to Sustainable Communities Tickets, Sat 2 Jul 2022 at 11:00 | Eventbrite. On the page click on register and enter your details.  Alternatively, you can go and search for “Big Society”. Click on register and follow the instructions. If you have any problems please email us at

Co-operatively Yours,

Chris Morgan

President and Secretary of the Robert Owen Society  

The Robert Owen Academy Annual Lecture 2021 Report

We promised our stakeholders and supporters at the last annual general meeting of the Robert Owen Academy Trust that we would hold an annual lecture to promote the ideals that the Academy stood for. The pandemic delayed matters somewhat and then on Saturday morning 12th June 2021 we launched as a virtual event with three high quality speakers.

The theme was
Seventy one delegates had signed up from the four corners of the globe . In the final event the challenge of technology reduced our numbers somewhat but nothing diminished the quality of the presentations and the level of subsequent discussion. 

Geoff Hughes proved to be an excellent chair and the three presentations from  Simel Esim of the International Labor Orgsnisation, Philip Beardmore from Coops West Midlands and James Alcock of the Plunkett Foundation blended their deliveries together into a seamless co-operative challenge to the issues facing communities worldwide . We have included the link to a recording of the meeting at the bottom of this article on our Marches Hive website .

Since the event the email traffic has been flowing from around the world with fellow co-operators eager to get started and to develop Grange Court in Leominster as a hub for National and international development. Co-operative activity is an unique form of economic behaviour and the discussions made it clear that co-operation works best when applied in its pure form. 

Our vision we take from this first lecture is of many autonomous cells linked to the Grange Court hub. The Co-operative Values and Principles would require nothing less.

The first Annual Lecture lasted two and a half hours and by general agreement had the Wow factor . Many thanks to all if the participants for making it such a success. 

We will continue to stay in touch and build on the thoughts and ideas discussed.

“Pursuant to part 31 of the Companies Act 2006 following the closure of the Robert Owen Academy on 31st August 2018 the directors of The Robert Owen Academies Trust have applied to Companies House to formally dissolve the registered company.”