Coop in focus: Enabled Works

Enabled Works Ltd is set up on an IPS (Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965) legal structure as a ‘not for profit’ Worker owned social enterprise. Any surplus (profit) income generated as a result of our activities is directly reinvested back into the business of Enabled Works Ltd, for the continued benefit of disabled people, allowing us to employ, train, rehabilitate, help and progress as many disabled individuals as possible in a self sustaining work environment.

1. EMPLOYMENT AND ENTERPRISE We offer a supported workshop enterprise to provide employment, rehabilitation and potential placement opportunities for disabled people, working with local employers and authorities involved in Contract Packing, Electro / Mechanical assembly, fulfilment, mailings and recycling. Our goods also form part of the training vehicle, which provides a real time life experience, for those not currently in employment or training alongside any other disadvantaged individuals to help empower, enable and equip them with the life skills and necessary experience for successful long term progression into suitable employment. We provide Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for our customers who employ disabled people indirectly via Enabled Works ltd.
2. SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / TRAINING AND LEARNING We provide a learning centre for use by employees, trainees and local organizations to deliver ’on the job training’ and possible employment through our own in house packing and production unit. We offer a range of computer based leaning opportunities including European Computer Driving License, giving those with disabilities and maybe mobility issues easier access to a range of training, personal development and employability courses, which we believe will help build confidence and inspire disabled and disadvantaged people and other cohort groups. We also offer Fork lift truck license and refresher training in a pallet racking stores environment.
3. SOCIAL EVENTS / OUTINGS AND COFFEE MORNINGS We have a recreational community element which also adds value to our organization and allows us to provide a complete community facility for use by employees, trainees, local organizations and individuals to organize social events, such as day trips, community arts and craft workshops involving cake decorating, Christmas and Birthday card design and printing alongside offering our site as an accessible venue to host coffee mornings and charity events for example Macmillan nurses etc.

What were your biggest challenges on day one?

We had already set up York Disabled workers co-op (2010) so setting up Enabled Works ltd was easier as we had learned pitfalls from YorkDWC. the biggest challenge is timetabling to get a co-op up and running, it takes longer than most people think. to set up a company can be as short as 24hours to register and have ‘on the shelf’, a co-op takes about 3 weeks to register and be a live company/ society. once the company is registered with FCA, premises is the next hurdle. most premises are leased with break points, council may assett transfer or let co-ops set up under license which is cheaper and better although most private landlords dont like to license. next is getting customers and work, we transferred contracts which Remploy released as they closed down, we had a one month gap between being made redundant and starting trading so TUPE regs did not become an issue. With yorkDWC we set up without a customer base and went into manufacturing garden furniture and products such as bird tables, nesting boxes etc.

What or who was the biggest help?

Social Enterprise Yorkshire and Humber (SEYH) http://www.seyh.org.uk/
and Co-op Enterprise hub http://www.co-operative.coop/enterprise-hub/
Sustainable social strategies http://www.ses.coop/ and Co-operative mutual solutions http://cms.coop/ were the first 4 main contacts, they helped us with our rules and articles of association and registering the Enabled Works Co-op with 4 days free help and advice. there is lots of help out there now which is readily available.

How did you go about getting funding?

We used our redundancy money to set up – 13 employees at £5000 each to use as a starter pot (£65,000). Getting money early on was a real issue but once established much easier, we use funding central http://www.fundingcentral.org.uk/default.aspx
to access grants. we also had donations from the GMB trade union as we were all GMB trade union members for many years at Remploy. Leeds council has also given some grant funding, although some of the grant applications are complex and take a bit of time to complete we would not have survivied our first year without additional funding from grants.

What problem is your business solving?

We are enabling disabled people the independence they require, a workplace free of discrimination and bullying, where everyone can be on a level playing field, operated and evaluated by the workers and the board of the Workers co-operative. Any profit made will be used by the society to improve terms and conditions for members and employ more people with disabilities/ provide work/ training placements and assist other social enterprises and workers co-operatives. This model of Enterprise enables disabled people to play a fuller part in the community and demonstrate the positive contribution we can all make to society, and helps create social equality in line with the aspirations set out in the Governments “Fulfilling Potential” Feb 2013 document.

How did you find out that this problem exists?

Remploy Ltd was a government work programme which was run at arms length from DWP. the subsidy paid by government was £111 million per year to run 54 sites UK wide.Remploy manufacturing factories were closed down after the Sayce report concluded they were not value for tax payers money. Enabled works is one of the sites formed after the closure of Remploy Leeds and Pontefract.

Why a coop, why not a regular business?

Co-operatives are business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit.Many definitions exist as to what qualifies as a workers’ cooperative. The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) Statement on the Co-operative Identity describes a co-operative as ‘an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise’.
The basic characteristics of Enabled Works workers’ cooperative is:
1. We have the objective of creating and maintaining sustainable jobs and generating wealth, to improve the quality of life of the disabled worker-members, dignify human work, allow workers’ democratic self-management and promote community and local development.
2. The free and voluntary membership of our members, in order to contribute with our personal work and economic resources, is conditioned by the existence of workplaces.
3. As a general rule, work shall be carried out by the members. This implies that the majority of the workers in a given worker cooperative enterprise are members and vice versa.
4. The worker-members’ relation within our cooperative is considered as different to that of conventional wage-based labour and to that of autonomous individual work.
5. Our internal regulation is formally defined by regimes that are democratically agreed upon and accepted by the worker-members.
6. We shall be autonomous and independent, before the State and third parties, in our labour relations and management, and in the usage and management of the means of production.

This is the model we wanted to use because it fitted our ethos and ethics. As well as giving members an equal say and share of the profits, co-operatives act together to build a better world.

What type of cooperative are you?

We are a worker owned worker co-operative registered under the Industrial & Provident Societies Act (“IPSA”) as a bona fide co-operative. We also operate as a social enterprise and invest in the community and environment to make the planet a better place to live.

What is your cooperative’s income sharing structure?

Profits may be distributed amongst members in years when the co-operative trades at a profit. Profits may either be distributed equally amongst the members or in accordance with some other equitable formula in recognition of the relative contribution made by each member to the business of the co-operative. Some or all of the profits may be retained within the co-operative as a general reserve, used to pay interest on withdrawable share capital (if applicable) or members may decide to make payments for social or charitable purposes

What is your decision making process?

Our co-operative operates with collective management elected from the membership who meet as a board every months to discuss operational matters and then every 3 months we have a general members meeting to agree strategies and business development going forwards. each member is over their own area of expertise and run the manufacturing operations with minimum input from the ‘management’. Our chosen option is that the Managers/ Directors are considered, and treated as, workers of the firm. All shares are held by the workforce with no outside or consumer owners, and each member has one voting share. In practice, control by worker-owners may be exercised through individual, collective or majority ownership by the workforce, or the retention of individual, collective or majority voting rights (exercised on a one-member one-vote basis). The majority of its workforce own shares, and the majority of shares are owned by the workforce.

How quickly can you make decisions?

As we meet regularly and we are all based on one site, decisions are made quickly. ‘normal’ day to day running takes place and we manage by exception so that only if an issue crops up which is not normal do we take time to discuss and agree a way forwards. Each member has defined areas of ‘expertise’ the company secretary deals with finance. The MD does PR and events and overseeing the general running of the business. Our Business development director deals with marketing and customer relations/meeting customers. Each production area has someone who manages the work schedule in that particular area. Each member is paid the same and has the same terms and conditions.

How would you compare the individual level of autonomy as compared to a regular employment?

As the business is owned by each one of us, everyone is treated the same and paid the same. We are empowered to manage our own areas and we are autonomous to make decisions and run the company. That being said, we are all answerable to each other and therefore important decisions are taking collectively at the quarterly meeting. As we all profit by collective running of our own business, conflict is low and we get on with our respective jobs. at Remploy, which was a corporate, all decisions had to go through the hierarchy and red tape which meant that many opportunities were missed due to time taken to even getting to discuss issues never mind find resolution or getting a decision.

What extra advice can you give to would be founders of coops?

Don’t over think issues. it is easy to talk yourselves out of setting up a business or co-op. There is lots of help out there to look at legal structures and organizational set up and you don’t need to personally be an expert. Just run with the idea, it is easier than you think.

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