23 December 2008

New miniweb - Business Opportunities

We have reorganised and added pages to create a miniweb focused on business opportunities. This site covers topics such as contracts, finance, networking & business refferals.

Have a look; this miniweb is just a start and we will be developing a more user interactive site in the future. If there is anything you can contribute, or suggest please contact us.


Greater Manchester co-operative exchange

An event exploring the challenges of the credit crunch and opportunities for connecting with local economies. For Co-operatives in the North West.

Host: Co-ops NW
Date: 16 January 2009
Time: 12:30 - 16:30
Location: Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount Street City Centre Manchester M2 5NS

Keynote speakers including:
> Michael Fairclough, Head of Community and Campaigns, The Co-operative Group
> Lucy Powell, Innovation Programme, NESTA

Plus: practical workshops on doing business in challenging economic times. Lunch and networking opportunities throughout the day.


22 December 2008

Promoting Worker Co-operatives

As part of our ongoing work to promote worker co-operatives. I am looking at the political angle and would like your input. If you are in a worker co-operative please fill in this quick survey (5 questions). It will help me to map political engagement and improve my ability to locally target the promotion of worker co-operatives to elected representatives.

Although we do a lot of work at a national level; it is useful to get the participation of co-operatives at a local area. You may be contacted in the future depending on your response.

Click Here to take survey

Zed Books wins the Pandora Award for 2008

Zed Books are proud to announce that they are the recipient of 2008’s Women in Publishing Pandora Award!

The Pandora Award has been presented since 1981 to an individual or organization for promoting positive images of women in publishing, book selling and related trades. Since 1982 onwards the prize, appropriately enough, has been a writing box which is passed on from one winner to the next.

Zed Books is a cooperatively owned and democratically managed publisher on issues of international politics.

"We are positive about our unusual management structure and the way it frees us to publish books that we believe to be politically important to a market that other publishers might not necessarily have the confidence to approach."

For over 30 years Zed has published books calling attention to the problems faced by women around the world marginalized by mainstream politics, and celebrating the resourcefulness with which women have organized themselves to achieve change.

"We are proud of our ability to find the market for these books, and our commitment to publishing books that are open-minded, politically progressive and dedicated to furthering the cause of feminist scholarship."

Winners in past years have been women who have made important literature and studies more widely available, taken leading roles in publishing in countries where that is difficult for women, or set up apprenticeships for women wanting to get into publishing. They have put their issues onto the mainstream agenda and the publishing industry has benefited from re-assessing its output and reflecting the lives and perspectives of today’s society.

For further information, on Zed Books please contact Ruvani de Silva on 020 7837 8466 or email ruvani.de_silva@zedbooks.net

10 December 2008

Research on worker co-operatives

I've just read a research paper by Rory Ridley-Duff, revisiting some previous research into worker co-operatives. Looking at "the impact of asset-locks on the longevity, growth and management styles in co-operative social enterprise."
Linked here.

Particularly interesting were two diagrams on co-operative governance structures: A representative structure; and a team/sector & hub structure.

The main points raised were:
  • The UK worker co-operative sector places a much stronger emphasis on common ownership than on the Continent.
  • Devolution of management responsibilities was more prevalent in individual and collective ownership, as opposed to common ownership co-operatives.
  • Access to external finance was less problematic for organisation where individual members had made investments.
  • Staff controlled organisations with a combination of individual/collective ownership grew faster than those based on common ownership principles.
In my opinion the survey size is too small, to draw many conclusion. I would be interested in research that could cover a lot more worker co-operatives. This might be something we can facilitate in the future.

It did however raise some interesting questions in my mind about the priorities and motivation in worker co-operatives, especially common ownership ones. If they are not investor led, would they priorities growth, (increase in the number of employees) over creating stable and well paid employment for their existing members?

If anyone knows of interesting areas of research into worker co-operatives, especially looking at their motivations and priorities and non-growth measures of success please send me info.

Supermarkets? No, thanks

The Guardian have done an article on local food. I was quoted for Co-operatives UK and they have highlighted a number of co-operatives inclucing Unicorn Grocery, Just Trade and True Food Co-op. Check it out here.

"Equal pay, equal say," is the slogan of this worker's co-op in south Manchester. It's your dream whole-foods shop: brightly lit, well-stocked; run by motivated, happy staff.

09 December 2008

Future Co-operatives 2009

Future Co-operatives event will be held between Friday 30th January to Sunday 1st February, in Swindon. The event will be looking at Co-operative identity, designed to inspire and invigorate those with a co-operative passion.

This event is funded by the Co-operative Fund and delegate fees have been subsidised for Small and Mediums Co-operatives so they are will be affordable . To book your place email info@co-operativefutures.coop or call 0845 456 2506.

The Employee Co-operative Council will have their quarterly meeting on the Friday morning and a Worker Co-operative Open Forum will take place in the afternoon as one of the first activities of the event. This will be a great opportunity to network with other co-operatives, share business contacts and discuss priorities worker co-operative priorities for Co-operativesUK.

The event will have 3 debates and a session on the Co-operative Fund.

Debate 1: The Co-operative Movement: Private or Third Sector?
Debate 2: A Co-operatives Act vs. A Co-operatives Standard?
Debate 3: A Co-operative Quality Marque?

02 December 2008

Atomised: a new ethical, green web design co-operative in Scotland

A new ethical web design & development company has been launched with the help of Co-operativesUK. Atomised Co-operative Ltd is a workers' co-operative founded by three web developers (Alasdair Macmillan, Neil Albrock & Morgan Faichney) who previously worked together at The University of St Andrews.

Atomised offer web design & development to co-operative, charitable, voluntary, public and social enterprise sectorsʼ and have already completed a new site for agricultural co-operative East of Scotland Growers Ltd.

The three founders are only in their early thirties but have clocked up a combined 20 years of experience working for some of the biggest players on the web including the U.K Government, BT, Standard Life, The University of St. Andrews & Aberdeen Asset Management.

While working together at the University of St. Andrews, mainly on database-driven web projects for the U.K Government, Alasdair, Neil & Morgan began sketching out the possibility of striking out on their own and starting a different sort of web design agency: one that was ethical, environmental and enterprising.

As co-founder Alasdair Macmillan says “Ethically we always knew we wanted to incorporate as a workerʼs co-operative. Neil worked for Scotmid Co-op for years while I worked for an Edinburgh based charity and we saw the benefits both for us as members but also for the client. My experience of many web design companies are that they are often marketing companies that subcontract designers. You often donʼt get good service and many times you have to deal with ʻmiddle menʼ, not the designers and developers themselves . We know already that our clients love the personal direct line they have to Neil, Morgan & AL the team that builds their sites and are on the end of a phone.”

“We also knew we wanted Atomised to be environmentally sound - so for example, in Atomised we work remotely from our 3 home offices and use video conferencing whereas previously we each had 80 mile a day roundtrip commutes to the office. And later this year we will be offering web hosting on our new server which is powered entirely by wind power generated electricity something we believe there is a desire for. Data centres are responsible for almost three per cent of electricity use in the UK and this is expected to double by 2020. Our aim is to be offering carbon-free wind-powered website hosting to our customers by early 2009.”

“But we also want to be enterprising and on the cutting edge. Really what drives us is wanting to make available to organisations in the co-operative, educational, charitable, voluntary, public and social enterprise sectors access to the same cutting edge web technology as the largest companies have at an affordable cost. For example, we are currently working on an iphone web application for an ethical company in Manchester that we are incredibly excited about. We are building mobile web capabilities alongside their new regular site. Something we are getting asked more and more for.”

Atomised have offices near Edinburgh & Glasgow. They are available for work U.K-wide and can be reached on +44 (0) 7866218073, on the web at www.atomised.coop

27 November 2008

Total Coverage wins two awards

Total Coverage left the Sustainable Business Awards ceremony at the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel in Southampton last Friday clutching both the Micro Business and Sustainable Business of the Year trophies. Singling them out for the highest honour, the judges praised the Southampton-based design company for its all-round commitment to each of the three pillars of sustainability; the way that social, environmental and economic impacts were considered in every aspect of the business’s operation.

Their ongoing action to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, close involvement with customers and suppliers to help them reduce their own impacts, waste minimisation activities and support for local charities all speak of a company which has fully embraced the principles of sustainable business.

Earlier in the evening, when they had been named as winners in the fiercely contested Micro Business Category, sponsored by the Sustainable Business Partnership, ceremony host Dr Alan Knight had also singled out Total Coverage’s success over 20 years operating as an ethical company.

Director Linda Bratcher says:
“To win both awards is a fantastic achievement, everyone at Total Coverage is very proud. It gives us all a great feeling when all our
hard work and commitment is recognised by others.”


It all started in 1982, at a time when collecting waste paper for recycling provided a valuable source of income for many voluntary organisations, churches and so on. But without a market for the end product, prices fluctuated wildly, and three environmental activists decided to do something about it. By selling and promoting recycled paper, they reasoned, they could help to stimulate demand and thus stabilise the market.

After a year of market research, business courses and market testing of recycled stationery products at a stall at Camden Lock Market, they were ready to go, and Paperback opened business on the third floor of a building in Hoxton formerly occupied by printing presses. This is now an extremely fashionable area of London, full of pavement cafes and art galleries, but in 1984 it was run down and rents were low. Paperback was also set up from the start as an employee owned company – a workers co-operative – which it remains to this day. As founder member Jan Kuiper puts it:

“having a real stake in the company’s fortunes makes for a greater commitment amongst the people working here”.

From small beginnings selling stationery by mail order and supplying community centres with duplicating paper, Paperback grew steadily, soon moving out of Hoxton into a purpose built warehouse in Bow, East London. A move made possible by a financial injection from around 100 sympathetic lenders. It also moved quickly from selling existing recycled papers to working with mills to develop new grades.

The range of papers available at the time was very limited, fine for the Paperback stationery packs that came in a range of attractive designs and colours, but not so good for business use, and few companies and organisations outside the network of small printing cooperatives and alternative bookshops were willing to try it. In 1985, assisted by a government grant and technical back up from PIRA (the Paper Industry Research Association), Paperback developed the first coated recycled paper, ‘Sylvan Coat’, in association with a UK paper mill. This was only the first of many collaborations which have helped transform the recycled paper market in the UK, not to mention the image of recycled paper itself. From selling to environmental organisations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, Paperback’s owners found themselves supplying paper to COI, British Airport Authority, NatWest Bank, British Airways, Westminster Council, the Body Shop, Tesco’s and the BBC.

The market has of course changed completely since Paperback’s early days. Green waste bins are now a normal part of office furnishings and Local authorities collect last week’s Mails and Guardians, which were printed on largely recycled paper in the first place. Nearly 40% of paper is now collected for recycling in the UK (compared to 28% in 1984), although more than 50% of this is sent abroad (especially the Far East) for reprocessing, as our own paper industry contracts. Recycled paper has lost its homespun image; there is no longer any question of sacrificing high quality for the sake of environmental credibility and recycled paper is available not just from specialists like Paperback - conventional paper companies have also now seen the sense in selling these ranges.

Of course the entry of the big conglomerates into a previously niche market is a mixed blessing for small firms like Paperback. It means their ecological message is being taken more seriously, but it also makes it more difficult for them to compete for customers. This has been a recurrent pattern for the company since it was founded – a constant need to be a step ahead of the market. In the last ten years, for example, Paperback became the first FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper merchant in Europe. It followed this with the launch of a new range of natural looking papers under the Cairn brand name which have proven popular with retail companies such as John Lewis, Top Shop, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and other customers such as EDF and the Royal Mail.

Trading conditions in the last two years have been particularly tough. The number of paper mill closures in the UK has been unprecedented. This development has been exacerbated by this year’s credit crunch. There is uncertainty in the market, reluctance to spend on advertising and promotion. Nevertheless the achievements of Paperback to date have been tangible: approximately 25,000 tonnes of recycled paper sold (equivalent to about 30,000 tonnes of waste paper diverted) representing something like 375,000 trees!!

Happy 25th Birthday Paperback!

25 November 2008

Calverts Takes Silver

Print and design co-operative Calverts received silver in the 2008 Mayor of London's Green Procurement Code Awards. A life cycle study showed Calverts recycled paper purchasing diverted 76 tonnes of post consumer waste, reduced CO2 emmissions by 107 tonnes, saved 2,301,300 litres of water and 176.43 m3 of landfill space. Since 2001, Calverts has measured and reported its purchasing of recycled publishing papers as part of a drive to achieve progressive environmental impacts and contribute to building markets for recycled paper products. The co-op, which holds the Green Mark award and is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, expects to qualify for the ISO14001 environmental management accreditation in 2009.
More at www.calverts.coop/blog

Unicorn secures affordable locally grown produce

Unicorn is an award winning co-operative wholefood store that specialises in local, organic produce and is owned and controlled by its 45 employees. It is now the proud owner of 21 acres of prime growing land in Glazebury, 14 miles to the west of Manchester.

Unicorn worker Rob Alderson, who has been involved in buying the land, explains: "We decided to secure land in our locality so that we can have a secure supply of organic veg for the long term. After 12 years of successful trading and working closely with farmers, we are in a great position to go ahead with this project. We know what produce the shop needs and our customers value greatly the benefits of a local, fresh, affordable supply."

As a sign of the commitment of its customers, Unicorn raised the £200,000 needed to buy the land from the local community. Customers loaned the co-operative money through a 'loanstock' scheme and in return could choose an interest rate of between 0% and 6%. This is the third round of loanstock Unicorn has offered - it raised £350,000 to buy its premises in 2000, which it has now paid back in full.

Rob continues: "We sell the freshest, most affordable produce around and, year on year, have increased our regional supply of organic produce. To feed a city in a sustainable way we need more growing land near the shops that sell the food - it's simple."

"By pioneering new ways of supplying local, organic food and developing an incredibly strong base in the local community, Unicorn is a terrific example of how business can be done in a sustainable way," says Dame Pauline Green, Chief Executive of Co-operatives UK.

"This is something that is likely to become ever more important as food prices climb higher and resources dwindle."

18 November 2008

How do you pay yours?

Over on our facebook group there is a discussion about pay at worker co-operatives. I am interested in the different models used and what the benefits are, How do you pay yours?

Here are some I have come across:
1. Complete equal pay (with profit distribution or not).
2. Equal pay, with pay increments at various points (older members will always get paid more).
3. Equal pay with profit distributed by various factors (may incl non-members or not)
• Length of service
• Fee earned hours
• Amount of share investment
4. pay increased based on responsibilities taken on or qualifications received.
5. I have heard some co-operatives used to operate on a needs basis where pay was distributed dependent on the members needs (had more children etc)
6. Of course more traditional types of pay.

Join the discussion or send me an email as I would like to know your views.

10 November 2008

Member visit: Co-opportunity & Essential Trading

While I was in Bristol I visted Co-opportunity, A worker co-operative since 1997 founded by: Mark Hitchins, Simon Jacobson and, Tim Blanc. They have grown to 5 members and deliver financial accounts and database solutions to Local Authorities and third sector organisations. Among other things we discussed tax effeicent profit distribution for IPS co-operatives and why Bristol has such a large cluster of co-operatives.

I also visisted Essential Trading a worker co-operative with 84+ members. Essential specialises in supplying natural, organic, fair trade vegetarian & vegan wholefoods to independent businesses in the UK. Essential is the 3rd Largest worker co-operative in the UK.

06 November 2008

Worker Co-operative Training in Bristol

I've had a busy week in Bristol, visiting worker co-operatives and attending training organised in partnership with the Co-operative College and Avon CDA.

There were 15 worker co-operative members present some of whom have only been part of a worker co-operative for a few weeks. The training concentrated on defining co-operatives and discussing their values & principles; giving international and historical context to modern worker co-operatives.

It was also a great opportunity for members to discuss each others businesses and share their approaches to issues from a worker co-operative perspective. I was amazed at the variation and differing approaches, to solving the same business issues. The one constant; that workers owning and controlling their own business is the key to sustainable business success.

I hope to arrange more training and opportunities for worker co-operatives to meet up and share experiences in the future.

24 October 2008

Suma to Supply Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior

Suma, the UK's largest independent wholefood wholesaler and distributor, has won the contract to re-supply The Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace's famous floating environmental flagship.

Suma is a worker co-operative based in a purpose built factory in Halifax. Formed in 1975 it has grown to nearly 150 employees who all receive equal pay and democratically own and control the business together. Full Story

13 October 2008

Infinity Foods racks up another award

Infinity Foods, a worker co-operative wholesaler, shop and restaurant in Brighton has won the Brighton and Hove Responsible Business Award and was runner up in the Independent Retailer of the Year Award.

With over 200 entries from 150 businesses this year, the Brighton and Hove Business Awards are designed to raise awareness and celebrate the diversity of businesses trading in Brighton. The award ceremony was held at the Brighton Hilton Metropole hotel.

This was the first time Infinity Foods had entered the awards. The co-operative entered three categories, were shortlisted for two, won one, and came runner up in another.

Scott Muir, a member of Infinity Foods who received the award on their behalf, says: “It is fantastic that Infinity has been recognised by this prestigious city award. As a worker co-operative our values are at the fore of everything we do.”

The Responsible Business Award is intended to recognise a business’s environmental impact through its business practices, programmes and investments, and it’s not surprising that Infinity Foods won.

Not only have they been selling organic wholefoods in Brighton for over 30 years but they have many other social and environmental policies. The majority of staff walk, cycle or use public transport to get to work; the shop is fitted with natural, sustainable materials; the lighting is 85% energy efficient and all their energy is sourced from renewable sources; they support local suppliers and producers and their delivery vehicles run on bio-diesel made from reprocessed used vegetable oil.

Infinity Foods is a member of Co-operativesUK. Find out more about Infinity Foods at www.infinityfoods.co.uk.

Employee Co-operative Council

The Employee Co-operative Council met last week in Manchester.

The ECC represents the views of Worker Co-operative members of Co-operatives UK and acts as a sounding board for policy and strategy. Topics covered at the meeting include:
  • Membership Strategy and improving services
  • Marketing the Co-operative Advantage
  • Promoting and developing The Code of Governance
  • Feedback from events
  • Planning for future events
The ECC meets four times a year; has 8 elected representatives and 1 co-opted member representing CDB's.

10 October 2008

CECOP Conference

Last week I attended a European Worker Co-operatives Conference organised by CECOP in Brussels. This event was a chance to bring worker co-operatives together from all over Europe to swap information and learn from each other.

The worker co-operative model in other countries; especially Italy and Spain is a lot more developed and more numerous than in the UK. The Mondragon Corporation is the largest worker co-operative in the world and the 7th largest businesses in Spain.

We promoted The Worker Co-operative Code of Governance and have sent it to CECOP so it can be translated into other languages. There was particular interest in translating The Code into Spanish, for use in Latin America.

The conference was mainly focused on European structural funds, co-operative financial support organisation and changes to European legislation affecting Social Co-operatives; a term we do not use much in this country but broadly refers to co-operatives dealing with social care or employing dis-advantaged people.

Member visit Eighth Day

I have been very busy recently on the 3rd October I visited Eighth Day, one of Co-operatives UK members. They are a vegetarian cafe and health food shop located on Oxford Road, Manchester. They were established in 1970 and have been a workers co-operative since 1976.
Interestingly they have a couple of staff trained to give nutrional advice and one person trained to give advice on skincare. This seems like a good way to differentiate themselves from other competitors.

24 September 2008

Event listing for Co-operatives

Co-operativesUK has created an events calender for co-operatives in the UK. This website is in its consultation phase at the moment so do give us feedback.

Check it out here.

19 September 2008

Worker Co-operatives facebook group

A facebook group for worker co-operatives has been created, and should be the first item in the search list, or click here.

Please join if you are interested in worker co-operatives and would like to get involved in the community.

edit: added link

Film showing of "The Take" in Manchester

The Manchester Film Co-operative will be showing Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s inspirational documentary "The Take" on the 23rd of September.

£2 entry to the film; starts at 7.45 and will be followed by discussion and drinks. Click here for the link

Enterprise Week

Enterprise Week takes place from 17-23 November 2008. It's a national celebration of enterprise where thousands of activities are run across the UK to encourage people to unlock their enterprising talent.

Co-operatives have often been involved in Enterprise Week - opening their doors to the public, clients and customers, holding tasting sessions or inviting schools to learn about ethical business for example.

This year Co-operatives UK is inviting as as many worker co-operatives as possible to celebrate Enterprise Week - imagine if worker co-operatives all over the UK held events that promoted both their business and the co-operative way of working!

Check out ideas for enterprise week and how you can get involved here.

17 September 2008

Training for worker co-operatives

I have been involved in organising training for worker co-operatives in partnership with the Co-operative College.

Following the success of the events that were piloted last year, and the recent launch of the elearning resource about the wider movement, we are now able to offer two further training events that are heavily subsidised by the Co-operative Fund. The training cost will be £50 to Co-operatives UK Members, £100 for non-members.

Venue 1: SUMA – Halifax, 6 October 2008
Venue 2: CDA – Bristol, 5 November 2008

Worker Co-operatives and their Co-operative Identity will explore the centrality of our co-operative identity and our co-operative values and principles to modern co-operative businesses and examine how they can give worker co-operatives a clear advantage in the market place.

If you are interested please get in touch.

12 September 2008

Member visits in London

I have just got back from London where I attended the Co-operative Party Conference on the 11th September and visited two worker's co-operatives.

Cycle Training UK - Are a cycle training provider in the London area offering a high quality and ethically driven cycle proficiency and maintenance training. Cycle Training are 10 years old this year and employee 40 members.

Art Zone Co-operative - Are an art's, media and design worker co-operative that have been operating since 1993 with 3 members.