Coop in focus: Birmingham Bike Foundry


From their website:

Birmingham Bike Foundry is a workers’ co-operative. We promote cycling activities and recycle discarded bikes.

We offer maintenance and cycle training to members of the public, schools and businesses. We offer workshop repairs, wheel building, and a tool club where you can come along and use our workshop. We source and sell bike parts, both new and recycled and we refurbish donated bikes.

We aim to make a healthy, fun, affordable and environmentally friendly means of transport and leisure available to as many people as we can, however possible!

We believe that cycling is an empowering activity that is part of the solution to Birmingham’s transport and health challenges.

Enter Chris:

My name is Chris Tomlinson and I’m one of the three workers at Birmingham Bike Foundry. We’re a fully mutual workers’ co-operative carrying out bike repairs, maintenance training and refurbishments of donated bikes from our shop on Stirchley high street in South Birmingham.

What were your biggest challenges on day one?

We struggled to work out whether our projected business plan was feasible in terms of generating enough income to pay ourselves.

What or who was the biggest help?

We had advice from Co-op Futures paid for by Co-ops UK and we had support from Radical Routes, a national mutual aid federation of co-ops which we are a member of.

How did you go about getting funding?

We got some funding from Awards for All England, and later a grant for some training equipment from Midlands Co-operative. Since the first year we have paid for all our core activities through our work – we aim not to be dependent on grant funding.

What problem is your business solving?

We aim to remove barriers to cycling in our community.

How did you find out that this problem exists?

Birmingham is a city with a toxic addiction to cars and a weak public transport system. Although cycling has become more popular in recent years it is still visibly lower than in other major cities. It wasn’t really necessary to refer to statistics to confirm our understanding of the situation.

Why a coop, why not a regular business?

We believe in worker self-management is a democratising force, and a possible method of overcoming the disastrous capitalist system that we are living in at the moment.

What type of cooperative are you?

We are a fully mutual worker co-operative.

What is your cooperative’s income sharing structure?

We decide pay at the end of each month based on what people’s needs are, taking into account income from other jobs and outgoings. Practically we are constrained in doing this as we don’t have as much money as we’d like to distribute.

What is your decision making process?

We have a weekly meeting where important decisions are made. Day to day we’re pretty informal, as there are so few of us. We have formal decision making policies which state that decisions should be made with full consensus wherever possible, but that we would defer to voting if we reached an impasse.

How quickly can you make decisions?

We have never had a problem with taking a long time to make a decision.

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

We all trust each other to work effectively independently and ask for guidance and advice when necessary. This is preferable to having a boss looking over your shoulder and makes for better results in the workplace.

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

Forming a co-ops in itself is not a solution to the problems of capitalism. Link up with other co-operatives for mutual aid and other workers in your area.

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