For the workers, by the workers

As we look around us this May Day, in the hope of the better weather being more the rule than the exception, and the longer evenings giving us time to be with our friends, families and communities, we want to celebrate some of the Worker or Employee Owned businesses that we’ve supported and who we are proud to work with. You may recognise some who have hit the headlines over the last few months!

Be Caring, formerly CASA, is on a mission to be ‘care-giving day-makers, hope-builders, smile-givers, life-changers, community-warriors with the will to make a difference.’ They are an employee-owned social enterprise where mission comes before profits, notwithstanding the need to run a viable business. The fact that they have been established for over 14 years suggests this mission is working for them. We have lent to CASA a number of times, including once to support the conversion to employee ownership – something we wholeheartedly support.

Highland Homecare, founded in 1994, and owned by employees since 2004, is now the second largest employee-owned company in Scotland and one of the major independent providers of home care and support services in Scotland. Delivering care in people’s own homes, the testimonials on its website show just how much its bespoke, holistic, people centred service is valued by its service users. We supported them with refinancing in 2012

Also, in Scotland, employee-owned Specialised Castings are a modern foundry producing quality high integrity engineering castings and traditional architectural, restoration and ornamental castings. We supported their work with working capital in 2016.

Recently spotted on the BBC (sadly not available to view right now) Worker Co-operative Manchester Veg Box People borrowed £20,000 from us to increase their packing and growing areas in 2016. Started in 2015, it was a direct response to the founder members concerns about the impact of the current food industry on the environment, on high streets, on small-scale farmers and consumers. Like Essential, they refuse to trade in air-freighted products

Not far away, again in Manchester, Unicorn Grocery is a thriving Worker Co-operative, and winner of the ‘Best Food Retailer’ Award at the 2017 BBC Food & Farming Awards. Like so many of the businesses featured here, they started (in 1996) with a social mission and vision – to create a worker-owned shop – friendly, diverse and welcoming – where a really wide range of wholesome, tasty food, sourced with care, would be sold at affordable prices, with regard for social and environmental issues. We’ve been delighted to help them both set up, and then buy their property.

Further South, in Bristol, another Worker Co-operative, Essential Wholefoods has been trading since 1971 (we hope they have a good 50th birthday party planned for 2021) and is a leading UK organic and Fairtrade product wholesaler. With a focus on independent trade, they buy from, and supply, independents over supermarkets – could your community shop stock their products? We’ve supported them to buy, and then improve, their property.

Finally, right down south in Southampton, worker-controlled co-operative October Books made the news globally back in autumn 2018 when their ‘Human Chain’ emptied their stock room and moved 2000 books 150 metres down a local high street as part of their move to their own premises, supported by a loan from us. October Books are proud to say that their sales have increased since the move, and that their much wanted Community Space is in demand for bookings – among other things, a local Quaker group meets there, and a vegan supper club hopes to.

There are many benefits to worker or employee ownership  – not least that it makes it easy to handle cold calls asking to speak to the business owner – ‘which one? We have lots’ we can answer!  – and there’s no better day to celebrate them than today. We believe that employee, worker or member ownership is a better way to do business – for the people inside it, for society, and businesses like those above are the proof.