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by Kevin McGrother

Students in North East England are being given a practical introduction to co-operative and democratic work thanks to a project launched by Cleveland Co-operative Development Agency.

The Agency, which serves the Tees Valley region, set up the Young Co-operatives project to give young people the chance to run their own co-operative business while still at school. There are currently two groups trading in the town of Hartlepool (The Chocolateers and Coco Banana), involving around 15 youngsters but the project is set to expand as a new co-operative, involving around 30 students, is launched in Redcar. All three co-operatives are selling fairly traded foods and drinks tea, coffee, bananas, chocolate, biscuits etc and so, as well as learning about co-operatives and co-operative working and the business skills required to run any co-operative, the youngsters are also finding out the wider issues of fair and ethical trading and about the people and communities who produce the goods they are selling.

In March the youngsters met Rijayatu Razaak, a girl whose family are part of a cocoa producing co-operative in Ghana. (See front page photo). The youngsters shared a fairtrade cake to help Rijayatu celebrate her 15th birthday and exchanged their different teenage experiences. Rijayatu told the Hartlepool youngsters that her family had only been able to afford to have her educated since her father joined the fairtrade co-operative.

The young cooperators also had their achievements recognised at a national Fairtrade Fortnight event in London and have been invited to Manchester to visit the offices of Co-operatives UK and the Toad Lane Museum of Co-operation at Rochdale.

Project co-ordinator Kevin McGrother is keen to develop international links for the project. Contact: youngcooperatives@btopenworld.com or Kevin.McGrother@btopenworld.com

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