March 21 AGM - Minutes

Date: Saturday 27/03/2021

Time: 18.30-20.00

Venue: Zoom

Present: Adam, Amelia (note taker), Caleb-Ciara, Cecile, Chris, Ciara, Craig, Dean, Ella, Emily, Fiona, Jay, Jemma, Kae, Leo (facilitator), Mani, Martin, Nina (facilitator), Olivia, Pat, Paul, Richard, Seb, Sean, Sergio

Apologies: Ben

Introductions

Participants were welcomed to the meeting. Leo reminded everyone that no voting would take place during the meeting – instead, voting would take place on the forum (links below for each proposal), with a deadline of 3 April 2021 (1 week from the date of the meeting). Anyone who needed support with the forum could email info@cooperationbirmingham.org.uk.

Votes could be “in favour”, “against”, “abstain” or “block” (indicating a strong concern). Two blocks would stop a proposal, and conversations would be held with the people concerned to move forward.

Sergio asked how to comment on proposals and was told that this could be done by commenting on the forum.

Chris asked how to find out more information about the proposal prior to voting, and was told this would be either through questions at the AGM or by commenting on the forum.

Reports

Financial report

In Ben’s absence Sean presented the financial report, which was also available on the forum. The Cooperative had 18K available from donations, but was slowly running down the account at the rate of c.£120/wk. Cooperation Birmingham also relied on using the Birmingham Community Action bank, and the report recommended finding a different way of managing the cash.

The full report is at: https://forum.cooperationbirmingham.org.uk/uploads/short-url/k2Gs9CeXR4jRzIdCmhA4l5DG2oi.pdf

Proposals

Proposal 1: Co-op brum decision making process

Leo presented the proposal. They noted that the tool proposed was based on one they had successfully used in another Coop. Decisions would be split into Small, Medium, Large, with different levels of approval/consensus required depending on level. All proposals would be posted on the forum and voted on using a poll.

Adam asked why “block” voting was being used rather than a democratic majority. Leo responded that the intention was to capture concerns before someone felt alienated from the group. They recognised that the system might need to be reviewed and refined once in use.

Richard asked whether the process applied to Cooperation Birmingham only, or also to sub-groupd and projects such as Solidarity Kitchen. Leo responded that this would need some consideration. Sergio was in favour of applying the decision-making process to all subgroups, to improve cohesion.

Amelia asked what the role of the organising meetings was under the new structure, given that decisions would no longer be made at them. Leo confirmed that under the proposal, no decisions would be made in organising meetings. This would widen participation and would therefore be a fairer approach to decision-making. Amelia noted that having to put a proposal in writing could also be a barrier for some people, and suggested that the organising meetings could be used to workshop proposals.

Proposal 2: Symbiotic support for union struggles and BTUC

Sean presented the proposal. He noted that Cooperation Birmingham had supported a number of trade union actions, and that this proposal would formalise that. It would also set up a link with the Birmingham Trades Union Council (BTUC) to advise on the best way to support each union action.

James from the BTUC joined to present a short recent history of BTUC. Birmingham had once had a strong trades unions council, with significant resourced and ability to organise. Over the last 20 years this had decayed, but there was now a push by activists across the city to revitalise it and provide central support for leftist movements in Birmingham. The organisation now had a renewed committee eager to create links outside TUC-affiliated unions. James extended an invitation to BTUC meetings on the 1st Thursday of every month.

Jay asked whether the proposal encompassed solidarity with wider movements, e.g. Sisters Uncut. Sean replied that the proposal could be broadened to include other social movements, and James noted that BTUC was already engageing with other movements e.g. Black Lives Matter.

James was thanked for his participation and left the meeting.

Proposal 3: Formalising membership with OpenCollective

Leo presented the proposal. OpenCollective allows organisations to manage their finances transparently, including managing expenses, collecting membership fees, and collecting donations.

To use it, Cooperation Birmigham would need a “Fiscal Host”, which manages the money on behalf of a collective. The suggested Fiscal Host was The Social Change Nest (https://opencollective.com/the-social-change-nest).

Sean noted that the solution would take some weight off Ben, who was currently managing all the finances. It would also allow Cooperation Birmingham to offer memberships, on a sliding scale depending on income.

Sergio observed that, although some people would become members just to support Coop Brum, we should still offer something to members. He suggested discounts with the coops that Coop Brum is linked with. Sean felt that the membership scheme would need to take off considerably before there was a benefit to other cooperatives of offering our members discounts.

Seb expressed a concern that Coop Brum was taking on too many projects, and that we would not have the capacity to maintain them.

Adam asked whether our money would be safe with OpenCollective. Leo and Sean both believed that the role of the Fiscal Host was to guarantee the safety of our money, but would look into this further.

Adam also noted that this proposal seemed to include two separate issues: the use of OpenCollective, and the charging of a membership fee.

Proposal 4: From Solidarity Kitchen to Solidarity Kitchen Café!

Paul and Cecile presented the proposal, which was to set up a pay-as-you-feel café in place of the Solidarity Kitchen. £4000 had been raised so far, and the business plan was being developed. The planned opening date was 21 June. Solidarity Kitchen would aim to operate under the same decision-making model as Cooperation Birmingham (subject to the vote on Proposal 1)

Paul extended an invitation to all participants to join the weekly meetings on Monday at 10am. Cecile noted that the Solidarity Café would be making links with a number of local groups e.g. LGBT Centre, Micro Rainbow, The Outside Project.

Seb noted that Paul’s and Cecile’s work had already resulted in new equipment for the kitchen and additional funding. This had been made possible by the structure given to the Solidarity Café.

Leo asked what this would look like in practice. Paul described having a “Solidarity Café” banner to differentiate these days from “normal” Warehouse café running. The kitchen would be staffed with participants, who would aim to make 100 meals plus a tray of cake. The meal would be served from 3pm and would be provided on a pay-as-you-feel basis. There was also potential for delivering, as well as for evening pop-up meals to bring further income into the café.

Seb noted that the project was based on the assumption that two people would run it (one kitchen, one front of house), and that they would earn an hourly living wage.

Mani asked what capacity Coop Brum had to run the project, and how work was being distributed. Paul responded that work was distributed to Paul, Cecile, Seb in the Monday meetings, and that they were now formally putting a call out for anyone else who might be interested in helping.

Proposal 5: Subscription funding two projects

Sean presented the proposal, which was to set up a membership scheme, with associated benefits, and use the money to fund the Solidarity Café (proposal 4) and the Media Cooperative (Proposal 6). The funding would initially be split 50/50 between the two projects, and as the subscriber numbers grew, a larger proportion of funding would go to the Media Coop.

Seb observed that Coop Brum did not have capacity to deliver on membership benefits. Mani noted that this was a longer-term plan. Sean explained that there would be different levels of benefits promised depending on the number of memberships reached, on the model of Kickstarter’s “if we reach $10,000 we will…”. He also acknowledged that any new project would need to have a paid person to run it. Seb requested that a business plan be developed.

Proposal 6: Forming a media co-operative

Leo and Sean presented the proposal. Leo noted a need in Birmingham for media infrastructure to support grass-roots movements, and proposed that a media cooperative could fill that gap. This model had been successfully adopted elsewhere, e.g. the Bristol Cable. The media cooperative would initially produce content online, with the aim of eventually doing investigative journalism. In terms of structure, there would be a paid coordinator and an editorial collective to oversee, followed by a workers’ collective once more than one person was employed.

Mani asked what capacity Cooperation Birmingham had to run this. Leo noted that this was not an immediate plan: the priority was setting up the Solidarity Café, and meanwhile people were being approached for the main position and the Editorial Collective. It was recognised that this project would need someone doing it as a job, rather than relying wholly on people giving their time. Leo also noted that people writing content would be paid for their work.