Why should young learners care about co-operatives and social businesses?

14 May 2024

The Welsh Government has released a pack of learning materials introducing co-operatives and social business to young people, created by Cwmpas.

These resources were launched on Robert Owen day, to celebrate his important role in co-operatives and social businesses.

For many in the co-operative movement around the world, Robert Owen is a well-known figure who inspired its development. However, in Wales he is perhaps not so well known. The resources are named after him, tracing his Welsh roots to the co-operative movement today.

Many people are unaware of the role co-operatives and social businesses play in the economy of Wales, today worth over £4.8 billion and employing over 56,000 people. The educational resources explain their economic value and potential to provide solutions to some of our modern challenges, while helping young people develop enterprise skills.

The packs are produced for both primary and secondary age groups and were developed with teachers and learners.

Developing the resources

To help develop the Robert Owen materials and improve design and accessibility, History pupils at Bishopston Comprehensive in Swansea provided ideas and feedback. Theirs and the teachers’ ideas were crucial in making a lot of information more digestible.

Students from Penyrheol Comprehensive near Swansea and Whitmore High in Barry also conducted their own enquiries, visiting social businesses to find out how they operate and help their communities. We created short films to share their findings, while the pack encourages schools to connect with social businesses.

Students can learn about the roles in a social business, the impact of Owen’s work and research local, national and international social businesses. They can also try co-operative decision-making and plan their own campaign or business, where they are in control and help their community.

Ceri Metcalf Day, a teacher at Penyrheol Comprehensive School expressed enthusiasm for being part of the development of materials for the Robert Owen Project, stating,

The pupils from Penyrheol Comprehensive School who took part in preparing and filming for interviews for the Community Co-op business have a wonderful experience with Cwmpas.  They developed their skills in communicating, both written and verbal, and to ensure that audience was considered. They learned a lot about different types of businesses and how we can give back to our communities in Wales. They found learning about Robert Owen inspiring and are already coming up with ideas on how to support the local community through business. They really enjoyed the interview process and it has opened up new ideas for careers in the future.”

Learners will develop their skills for the world of work, as the activities are anchored to the Careers and Work-Related Experiences strand of the Curriculum for Wales.

Production of the resources has been a co-operative effort, with support from many different organisations.

One pupil that took part from Whitmore High School in Barry was “delighted to be invited to take part and help shape resources that we may use one day!

I enjoyed learning about Robert Owen in class, so it was great to help give our own knowledge to the project, it was really exciting to be involved and learn more about how social enterprises help people, especially ones right on our doorstep.”

Many young people feel the route to entrepreneurship is still ‘winner takes it all’, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to show the co-operative difference and what can be achieved by working together – saving jobs and resources for the community and creating new opportunities.

Lynne Neagle, Cabinet Secretary for Education said: “I am proud that by working together, with the help of teachers and learners, the Welsh Government and Cwmpas have created the Robert Owen project. This is a brilliant way for children and young people to learn about the values of co-operatives and social businesses and the positive impact these can have on their communities.

This work will support schools implementing ‘Careers and Work-Related Experiences’ in the Curriculum for Wales – helping children and young people build their knowledge of the breadth of options available to them. Learning about career opportunities is vital in supporting learners to make informed choices about their future careers.”