Coop in focus: Work for Change

Work for Change rents affordable space to ethical and cultural businesses in Hulme, Manchester on flexible leases. We have a long lease on a building which we helped to design, with 32 spaces including offices, studios, a cafe and a performance space.

What were your biggest challenges on day one?

We started out because many people in our area were running businesses from their big old flats which the council decided to demolish and build small new flats without enough space for all those other activities in them.

What or who was the biggest help?

ICOM helped alot to get the company registered, Manchester City Council’s Economic Development team helped with funding.

How did you go about getting funding?

Part City Challenge funds (a redevelopment programme), part ERDF grant. We had a bank loan arranged with Co-op Bank but due to cost overruns we couldn’t buy the building as planned from our development partner, so we ended up with a long lease.

What problem is your business solving?

Workspace is too expensive for small businesses.

Why a coop, why not a regular business?

The members are the people who rent the space so they know what they need. The members set the rents, decide on the services they want, notice what needs fixing, set policies. Part time admin staff keep the place running how the members want it. Profits are not distributed but we are building up a fund for future maintenance.

What type of cooperative are you?

A service co-op

What is your cooperative’s income sharing structure?

n/a – members pay the same rent per square foot for any type of space, non-members can rent space but pay 25% extra surcharge

What is your decision making process?

Monthly general meetings, with a board of directors that can make interim decisions when required or we ask members directly by email

How quickly can you make decisions?

We can make decisions by allowing 24 hours for email responses, if required directors can make immediate decisions, longer term issues are decided monthly

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

Do it! Keep the membership in control – don’t start giving out titles like Chair, flat hierarchies make it clear that everyone is involved, responsible and should contribute. Have clear policies and review them regularly before everyone forgets what they are. Make sure there are clear benefits to membership to reward members contributions.

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