Minutes for the 23rd May meetings are below:
Present: Paul, Cecile, Sean, Ben, Rachel, Sophie, Pat
Check ins (not minuted)
Discussion re. Sol Cafe proposal
Text of proposal: “Sol Cafe continues planning for opening on 21st June 2021. It has autonomy over social media accounts and pursues grant funding to meet the project’s annual costs. It continues decision making via the weekly Sol Cafe meetings.”
Paul: In the last few weeks has learned that there are people with great experience & strong opinions about these things, this is valuable as part of CB. Identifies as an action person who gets things done. This is the challenge, to make things work together. Vision of getting food on the table for peple who are vulnerable. CB has a vision of being accountable and having access for everyone. Suggests Cecile talks further as they have little time. It would be valuable for us all to hear each other but doesn’t want to have a long meeting like last time. Left Birmingham some time ago, becoming more distant. Is a director of the CIC but has other projects going on.
C: Speaks for the group when says that they need autonomy. There is a core group involved since the beginning, others have joined with experience with autonomy. Still welcomes everyone to join us and new ideas; people are wanting to do workshops and raise funds for the project. SK was to happen for a certain length of time and wanted to continue, SC was what had to happen and became the plan that it is. Wish is for CB and SC to find a way to hold hands and support each other. It’s so important. Understands that CB wants to be an umbrella organisation, to find ways that organisations can be integrated. Everything will have been refined and tuned in. In the mean time we do our own thing but with the door open and with hand out. Still happy to give meals for the membership.
Soph: Experienced it as a great idea to continue what was SK and transform it into the SC, lots of people supported that. The people that were involved in the kitchen had a big role in formulating it but there were lots of other people that had an interest. Where there was a democratic process, although it wasn’t fully formed, that process became a bypassed area and instead through the weekly Monday meetings all the decisions about Sol Cafe were made, as Paul said making it up as you went along, when there were lots of people with experience and ideas about autonomy, NGOs, why we don’t say ‘volunteers’, etc. Now things have gone down 2 tracks quite far. The main thing is why did we go down these 2 tracks when we had an organisation that was operating democratically that had the ability to create something without the need for 2 or 3 people to create a CIC as such.
Paul: Practically can say why we did the CIC, it was to get on and do stuff. If he is working on a project then he wants to feel it has value and he is connected to the people he is working with. The forum and the online meetings weren’t always accessible. Being supported and guided was non-existent. It would be wonderful if all these things happened. How do we support future projects to come under the network of knowledge and expertise.
R: What was the history of the people who set up the kitchen and why they didn’t come to the morning meetings: jobs, or communication stopping them?
Sean: There was never really any bringing the time of the meetings to the [CB] group, it was quite an inaccessible time. As CB we would have done something; the proposal of doing the cafe was one we agreed with but given the orientation and achievements of the group we would have continued with something like SC in any case. P&C continuing it was endorsed by the group and it was as part of the group, there was no separation expected. The word autonomy has a lot of meaning in coops and anarchism and in coops what it means is independence from the state and from other institutions like political parties, what it doesn’t mean is that the subgroup is completely separate - that is being an independent organisation. We have always had the idea that the general meeting is the sovereign body and people should feed decisions back through that. People have raised concerns and nothing has happened. The social media platform is one example, it being created and that the issue with the masks. Hasn’t experienced this thing of people not responding to concerns before. We need to respond to people, it has led to sleepless nights. Paul is saying that he wants to connect with the people affected, wants that too but is doing this because [S] is a revolutionary and wants to raise class power. It isn’t about helping vulnerable people; a lot of people will be but what CB is about is about those people providing the solutions to their own problems. A CIC isn’t a cooperative, we can deal with that if we deal with it under the auspices of a cooperative but if we have a CIC that doesn’t have a membership, doesn’t have cooperative principles… CB will have a big hole missing from it, it was a part of it and part of the reason why we did the membership scheme. Why is it that people who have worked on things are excluded because they aren’t physically there. There is an online/offline thing but instead of it being met half way there are antagonisms: people have been explaining things, putting things in audio forms etc.
B (minuting): said some things about feeling unheard and about misconceptions about the structural form of CB in relation to being a network or an umbrella organisation
Sean: clarifies that the Bike Foundry has no relationship with CB, that the Warehouse Cafe has a commercial relationship with CB, notwithstanding the contribution that a lot of members have made. There are things that can be thought out to propose to other worker coops but they have to work for the businesses involved.
Pat: Used to chair Dudley Council meetings, SIFA Fireside, has created CICs, created charities. The thing that makes her sad is that there seems to be a complete inability for both sides to hear one another. It doesn’t matter that she has come in half way through because it’s the same stuff. It seems to boil down to the fact that a CIC is regarded as a heretical capitalist organisation. Baobab is a CIC, TRJFP is a CIC. There seems to be an ideological clash about whether you can incorporate CICs into the CB format and that is the fundamental problem. Secondly people feel betrayed because of what CB was and what SK was and they feel betrayed by SC having a different structure. The third thing is that people are not hearing one another.
Sean: does think that CICs have drawbacks because power is held by the directors and they don’t have members. Initially the CIC was formed in the spirit of just doing things, then we discussed it and decided that it could work if the point was to use it raise funds. It is possible to incorporate it into CB and that’s what we thought at the time. They were created as a capitalist form to soften the edges and it’s easy to set them up for that reason. In the longer run we might be looking at a multi-stakeholder coop or something like that but it takes longer and needs thinking about governance… had we gone down that route we could have completed it by now.
Seb: The Warehouse Cafe is a limited company, doesn’t see why this isn’t worse. A CIC is more community orientated and can have a cooperation structure probably or maybe not. The CIC seemed like the cheapest, fastest way to establish a body to get grants. Being based on crowdfunding doesn’t work forever, we have to apply for grants
Soph: this CIC or not CIC is a red herring, there are discussions either way. The point is whether that decision is made democratically. CB has done nothing apart from the food deliveries and the SK, it hasn’t been trying to grow and become some sort of umbrella organisation. Some people set up a different structure to do things that CB was already doing. The question remains, why does it have to be a separate organisation of the people doing the organising in the space when we already have a forum where we can made decisions.
C: SK was for a definite period of time, when it was coming to an end P&C started doing things independently and got other people who had ideas joined. But not from Coop Brum. Like Pat says we don’t seem to be able to hear each other but to hurt each other by not listening. Yes it is a completely different project run by different people. Has to go soon.
B: the organisational structure isn’t a big deal, it was set up and several of us who are in this meeting had to argue for the possibility of incorporating it into the CB structure.
Sean: many legal forms are limited companies, it is a way of managing legal and financial risk which is the reality of working within capitalism. Community Benefit Societies can have memberships, CICs can’t have memberships. CB has a membership but it isn’t an incorporated organisation but first we need to repair the fact that people feel ignored. What are the problems of Coop Brum; wants to know what they are so we can work on them.
Seb: there was miscommunication in the middle, main thing is to recognise that, work on the points that didn’t work out. Hates this situation, hopes that the miscommunication can be worked out. At this point Sol Caf is a quite different project. Best to let ourselves go forward, finds it overwhelming and impossible to go forward in this situation when the Warehouse Cafe is now reopening.
Paul: it has to be a workable system. The forum is great, but if it’s not used in a way that facilitates things working then it’s not working, which is fine but it needs to be adapted. There are different ideas about timescale, some people love to get things done, some people just have to get a perfect structure. If it’s that complicated I feel disconnected. Any organisation has to work with how people turn up, in terms of their ability, their knowledge (etc). Starts to feel, what is the point. Misses the one to one. Dropping in and out of the meeting makes it even worse.
Cecile: has to go. Wants to keep the joy of solidarity cafe and the people who are involved with it. Feels the joy in their meetings and that is what drives them forward. These meetings deaden them, can’t keep doing that, it is eating them up. The people who want to use the cafe can be involved, the minorities who actually need a space where they can be heard. Wants to gives a voice to these people so they can fill it, they can feel supported and a part of the community, this is not achieving anything.
Seb: feels that meetings like these are important and necessary.
Soph: wants to find a way to come back together not to separate. Still wants to be involved and to get more people involved. We want you guys to feel supported, don’t want you to feel like CB is something you want to get out of and split away from. If that is the issue then we need to support it. That was always the dream for them
Seb: doesn’t want to separate the projects but there is only a short time to get the SC ready to go in June. We can’t go back to the starting point again. It isn’t possible to do this with meetings every other week.
Sean: found that stressful, is sad that Cecile is upset. Raised a point at the start of the meeting about the COVID guidelines. The guidelines have been agreed, there was an audio recording to make it accessible. Operational stuff is completely fine, you don’t have to bring everything to the meeting. What matters is making decisions that are contrary to the principles of the organisation. Would like to get involved in the meetings but is intimidated, but shouldn’t have to go to them when there are responsibilities involved. If people wanted to change the rules then they could have proposed it but we would have said it’s against the law. It has been raised, it hasn’t been responded to, there are other issues that haven’t been responded to. Gets that people like to do things, like to make decisions in the physical space. People can’t raise their voice because they’re afraid, because they don’t want to upset people. Understands that Cecile really wants to do the cafe, but they are doing it as part of an organisation that contributed to it. Did the airtable, called hundreds of participants, raised £15,000, has an organisational reputation. Hears the proposal but if it was proposed in the proper way then thinks people wouldn’t have an agreement. Some of us might have physically been there or not but you don’t have to physically be there to make decisions. Can’t have another two weeks of this chaos. Not here for fun, here because it makes a difference. For an example, in Hockley there is a housing coop, a nine bedroom house called Torch. The people who lived there forced the people to move out; it’s called carpetbagging. Not saying that’s what’s happening but there is an element of taking the collective work.
Seb: would you rather have the project dead rather than not have it connected to Solidarity Kitchen?
Sean: very unhappy about the situation, has been doing everything to avoid it. It wouldn’t die, but it wouldn’t have access to the shared information, the resources. Wouldn’t want it to die but we are doing a mistake and it’s helpful to communicate with each other and follow shared guidelines so people don’t get cheesed off. Doesn’t feel that he is operating in bad faith.
Polls: has been trying to understand everything, understand both sides. There is a lot of interpersonal feelings that are being projected onto the project. These feelings blur out understanding and listening. It doesn’t matter if one side is always explaining itself if the other side isn’t listening, have to be open so the project can work. There is no reason why we should be looking back at mistakes that were made and pointing them out all the time rather than going forward. It’s like holding a grudge and that’s not very democratic because the process of democracy is to allow growth and bring and understanding to all of us.
Seb: don’t see it as interpersonal
Polls: but everyone has a lot of feelings about the project and they are being projected onto the project itself. Sol Cafe is a new project, it’s not the same project. We agreed not to do a proposal because it wouldn’t be fair without having the procedures. This meeting was to talk it out to set structures because these issues will come up with the next project. Called Sean to clarify some things but some people won’t. Both parties want the same thing but don’t speak the same language
B: is feeling quite down about all of this, it seems like the carpetbagging metaphor has some truth to it. In practice it seems like the cafe already is a separate organisation - if it is not following the decisions and guidelines of CB then in what sense is it really a project of CB. But if it is not a project of CB then that has certain ramifications. Really it isn’t an interpersonal problem, this is a dead end explanation. The problem started with a structural failure within CB, we don’t have a structure determining how to run projects because it ran so well for so long without needing one. But people can’t always be integrated strongly with the central organisation so we need rules that allow projects to run smoothly and autonomously without decisions having to come to main meetings all the time or without going off on one themselves. We also need a structure for dealing with organisations that were started as part of CB but have grown to have their own life, for instance if the media coop takes off and becomes a worker coop with many members, the relationship with CB will justly be different from how it began, and the structure needs to allow for moving into a different form. Finally we need a way of having organisational members since there may be other independently-existing coops who want to contribute to CB but not give up their own autonomy, so we need to just have an alignment of principles with them and it is fine not to ask anything more of them.
Soph: doesn’t want SC to go its own way independently, wants the people who are currently running it to stop running it, just wants the bigger decisions to be made according to the decisionmaking process. Let’s just come together and be Cooperation Birmingham again.
Paul: originally it came from CB and it’s moved away more and more as the process has gone on. It’s a crunch time for those involved, himself, Seb, Cecile and Pat. Whether to engage with the process or move away. Both are good to him, if he was still living in the city… It’s obviously not working correctly if people are feeling unheard. SC has a meeting tomorrow. Ideally wants to be back in Coop Brum but if other people think they can create their vision better elsewhere then that might be okay. Maybe it is another useful community project. Has experienced problems with CB personally, practically. Needs to feel as if he is part of a group where he can be held accountable and hold other accountable. Perhaps the problems are the relationships not being as good as they could be.
Sean: the idea of a shared membership is where you can see that the projects can work together. This is where it doesn’t make sense, who are the members of Sol Cafe. Currently it isn’t a form that has members. In terms of the impasse, we have made the point about the democratic process and put that across. Still feels unheard. Tomorrow the people will have to make a decision about what they want to do. Either we try to communicate like Sophie said so well; the alternative is leaving, we will have to talk about what the outcome of that is. We have visions of building coops in Birmingham and we wouldn’t be paying the membership subs or associating directly, we might have to email members to tell them that SC is leaving and encourage them to contact them if they can want to help out. If it is going to be part of CB then there are things that need to be talked about - the masks thing has to be resolved, the name thing has to go to a vote. Hopes that these things are talked about.
Seb: thank you all for being here, the most important thing is that the people who come to the meeting show how much they care. One of his main thoughts is that there has to be a separation, can’t see the project growing within CB, not to deceive ourselves but to discuss the clear lines and what are the things we can cooperate on with each other. It can’t work to be a continuation of SK, it won’t work. We have to think how we can separate peacefully but acknowledge the history and stuff. Losing the Solidarity Kitchen… there were many people who felt that the SK was running because of the pandemic and that it was finished and felt alright with starting a new project when the crisis is almost ended. The most important thing is how we split in peace, thinks that there must be a split. From this point we can start to build our relationship.
B: wants to take a more positive angle on the checkout because he feels like he was too doom and gloom last time. Really really wants CB to be doing this sort of thing because for him it is all about building class power to supply the needs of life outside of capitalist profit motive and outside of state handouts to the ‘needy’, and while we’re not going to feed everyone next year we could be feeding some people and that is great. Wants to reiterate that although there are big discussions about the relationship to be had, we can have these discussions as soon as a few really minor things are sorted out to bring SC back into compliance with the democratic decisions of CB: the maskless photos have to go and that would take only 2 minutes, but the CIC structure is really not a big deal, finally the issue of the name has to be put before the organisation democractically. But this is all easily done and if he didn’t think it was possible and desirable then he wouldn’t be coming to all these meetings.
Paul: appreciates that being reiterated, that there isn’t much standing in the way. Agrees that there are some complicated things to be sorted out but it is easy to get started continuing to work together. Is stepping into some other bigger things locally so won’t we getting involved weekly with the SC but will still be a director. Will support Cecile, will support the SC in whatever form it continues, but would like it continue as part of CB because he thinks it is a noble project.
Polls: agrees that there are some very simple and easy things to resolve. Has put a diagram of how they understand Coop Brum to work beyond the umbrella point of view. Each supports the other in terms of communication, engagement etc.
Seb: doesn’t think that these are easy issues to solve, they are difficult which is why we are having this big conversation.
Soph: let’s try to do this all together, think about everything in the meeting tomorrow, please don’t cut us out - let’s find a way to come back together, let it be about a collective vision and not the vision of one or two people.