Coop in focus: Voluntary Action Harrow

My name is Sarah Kersey and I am a member of Voluntary Action Harrow, a workers co-op based in Harrow, north west London.

What were your biggest challenges on day one?

Putting the theory into practice and learning how to work within a non hierarchical structure.

What or who was the biggest help?

Sion Wellens from Calverts!!

How did you go about getting funding?

Big Lottery and from charging organisations for our services.

What problem is your business solving?

Giving support to start up or existing not for profits who need help developing their own infrastructure.

How did you find out that this problem exists?

A local infrastructure support organisation closed not due to lack of need but through poor management and people kept asking us for help because we had the know how.

Why a coop, why not a regular business?

Because some of us had been made redundant from that local infrastructure organisation due to poor management and we wanted control of our own destiny.

What type of cooperative are you?

A workers’ co-operative.

What is your cooperative’s income sharing structure?

We are not for profit and our profits go back into the company to develop projects for the benefit of the community.

What is your decision making process?

We have regular monthly members meetings and sub groups for HR, finance and marketing which feed into the members meetings.

How quickly can you make decisions?

Monthly but if it is really urgent we can meet within a day or two. Or sometimes via email on the day.

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

It is a liberating and learning experience, not suited to everyone maybe. It’s hard work and you have to have the passion to want to work hard and co-operate with each other otherwise you might as well get a job in regular employment.

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

Try and get the balance right between the policy and procedure and the development of new business. Which is also balanced for you as individuals and for the size of your business. Get the right people on board; people who really want to work within a team, who have the skills and experience, who are open minded, are good listeners and want to work hard to make the business succeed. Recognize when your business is changing and respond to this appropriately.

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