To the visitors from the web: this summary outlines the findings of my small scale research into worker coops in the UK. Worker cooperatives are democratically run, mostly for profit organisations owned by the people who work there. For a quick starter watch this short (1.25 min) video with Ed Mayo – the president of Co-operatives UK.
My dear friends,
Although I barely know you and already managed to disturb your peace through pesky, unsolicited emails, I hope that this project allows all of us to learn more about each other and help newcomers like myself better understand the nature of cooperative business.
To avoid waffling, let me start on what I have learned from the stories shared by the 15 coops that participated:
- What the coops do: business consultancy, coop and non-profits consultancy, coop start up consultancy, gardening services, landscape architects, outdoor youth activities, two off not your usual bicycle repair services, veggie growers, commissioned artists, ethical and affordable business space, ethical manufacturing, trustee service, small eco-retail (I’ve just come up with this term), social enterprise in the recycling industry.
- Nearly half of you said that the biggest challenge was finding customers. Time was next and surprisingly start up funding was mentioned only twice. An interesting challenge was getting used to the non-hierarchical coop structure.
- Six of you have pretty much pulled yourselves up by the straps of your boots, while ten have approached coop friendly organizations for advice and assistance. Below this post there is a list of all of the organizations that have been mentioned. Two of you have received some money through crowd funding and selling loan stock.
- The great majority has set out to be self sustaining, but even so 8 of you have applied for a grant at some point. Three mentioned savings of some sort.
- The problems your coops set out to solve are as varied as the types of businesses created. It seems that all of you have aimed at solving a social issue rather than maximising your profits. It’s heart warming actually.
- Democracy is the main reason cited as to why you had chosen a cooperative business structure. Ethics, ideology, and self determination are very important too. One example worth noting is that of the North East Organic growers where the original founders have put in the work to start it off and then left it for the workers who have successfully continued on this path.
- It seems that none of you have learned from greedy multinational corporations and rarely have any profit to share. What’s worth noting is that a lot of you mention sharing income based on the hours and effort put in. On the other end of the scale are the members of the Birmingham Bike Foundry who: “…decide pay at the end of each month based on what people’s needs are, taking into account income from other jobs and outgoings.” This resembles more a family unit than a business.
- Communication is key for decision making. Even though you trust each other to work towards bettering your ventures, you still emphasize the flow of information between members. Flat structures give you equal input in the discussion. You meet on at least a monthly basis to discuss and decide on bigger matters and continue talking on a weekly or daily basis as necessary.
- Although you talk a lot, ALL of you say that you have a HUGE amount of autonomy compared with a traditional employment. You mention empowerment, mutual respect and trust. You also mention that it requires a shift in thinking from what employees are used to, even to the point of saying that it may not suit everyone. The positive addition is that with training and understanding it can work very well.
- There is a lot of good advice for people that wish to start a business in a cooperative manner. So much that there will be a summary post with all the advice you have shared. The theme that seem to stand out is not to panic, prepare for a lot of work, keep at it and it will be all worth the effort.
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU very much for sharing all of these stories. I hope that it will inspire others to follow in your footsteps. This world needs more ventures like yours, full of love and kindness. This is the end of this project, but I hope that some of you will stay around for more cooperative activism. Thanks to you two cooperatives that are among you were able to connect with you and get more support towards their goals. I hope that we can do more of it in the future.
Here’s some of the organisations mentioned as helpful in the process of setting up:
- SES (social enterprise sunderland)
- A-N magazine
- Co-operative mutual solutions
- Co-op Enterprise hub
- Social Enterprise Yorkshire and Humber (SEYH)
- Lambeth Cooperative Development Agency
- CDA Bristol
- Coops UK
- Manchester City Council’s Economic Development team
- Coop Futures
- Radical Routes