Nutclough Housing Co-operative needs new members

In 2002 Zion Housing Co-op purchased the Nutclough Tavern public house in Hebden Bridge (6-8 Keighley Road) which closed in 2001. The name was later changed to Nutclough Housing Co-operative to reflect the location. News of the history of the Nutclough area was described on this site in 2015.

The housing co-op, currently run by Leeds-based Cornerstone Housing Coop and Greenwood Housing Coop, on a temporary basis, is looking for new members to take on the challenges of refurbishing the property. It has eight or nine bedrooms, most of which would be hard to make accessible, and is best suited to communal living.

Priority will be given to groups wishing to become members of the Radical Routes mutual aid network of co-ops working for radical social change, though this is not only factor that will be taken into account. Read more here:

Nick Sellen: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicksellen/6058936299/in/photostream/

Emma Charleston, who includes photographs of the garden in her blogspot:  wrote, “Me and Alex went on holiday to Hebden Bridge, and we stayed with Alex’s friends at Nutclough housing co-op. They have the most beautiful, gorgeous, incredible, huge garden, full of ripening fruit and vegetables, quiet places to sit, bee hives, a summer house, and general loveliness”.

New members will need to deal with the challenges of structural work on the roof and some significant refurbishment. The majority of the group will need to be trained in understanding and implementing the co-op’s financial plan. If none of the applicant groups are accepted into co-op membership, they will be given priority in making offers to buy the property from those groups and given advice and assistance in setting up a new housing co-op.

The deadline for applications is 10 March 2019, though expressions of interest are encouraged before then. Applicants should download a questionnaire after 11 January 2019 here. For more information or to express interest, contact nutcloughcontinuity@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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Lancaster Music Co-op has been given “a new lease of life”

 

The Lancaster Music Co-op has been operating from a rundown council owned building in Lodge Street for 33 years. A video describes the co-op’s contribution in launching the careers of young musicians who used their affordable rehearsal premises.

In October Lancaster City Council issued the co-op with an eviction notice, prompting a petition and a campaign backed by locals and high-profile musicians

Anthony Robinson, who has been involved with the Co-op since the early days, said the decision was “wholly wrong and indefensible”, and that the Co-op supported people in Lancaster and Morecambe when the area “was on its knees”.

Many questions were then asked about the Co-op’s tenancy agreement with the city council, with references made to “dodgy 80s tenancy agreements”. Questions were also raised about why any major work hadn’t been carried out on the building for the past three decades.

There have been long drawn out negotiations with developers about plans for a new “Canal Quarter” in the city in which, according to the latest issue of Private Eye, the co-op’s premises were scheduled for demolition. Sally Bloomer, a Lancaster musician and independent business consultant said: “Let’s build our own cultural quarter. It might take a bit longer, but won’t it be great?!”

Supporters gather outside Morecambe Town Hall

Lancaster City Council voted unanimously on November 14 to rescind the eviction notice issued to Lancaster Music Co-op

Ward Councillor and current Mayor of Lancaster, Andrew Kay, said there was no reason why Lancaster City Council’s Masterplan for the Canal Corridor could not include the Lodge Street building.

Music Co-op director David Blackwell said he was overwhelmed by the support shown at the meeting at Morecambe Town Hall by members of the public and councillors. He said: “It was unbelievable. I just couldn’t believe it was unanimous. We’re overwhelmed with the support. “We didn’t expect it, we didn’t know what to expect, as we haven’t seen any support for so long.

Chris Barlow, a senior lecturer at the University of Cumbria, and a singer and guitarist in local bands, who said: “The council needs to appreciate how important this is. It contributes amazingly to the health and wellbeing of many”.

Councillor Caroline Jackson said: “We saw from the speeches last night, Lancaster is a community that knows its own mind and is hugely and powerfully supportive of the things it values. That’s why people love living here. Tim and I were privileged to play a strong part in the Co-op’s fight to convince officers and members that the Co-op deserves our support to continue its work and create an even better future. The community sent a message to the council last night and councillors from all political parties recognised that message – listen to us before you act, work with us over changes to our city and together we can achieve great things.”

Councillor Rob Devey, who proposed amendments to Councillor Kevin Frea’s original motion to rescind the eviction notice, said: “The council should accept responsibility for the most urgent structural repairs. “This isn’t the fault of anyone here now, it was a bad agreement in the first place. The council has taken its eye off the ball over 33 years, and to expect the Co-op to take responsibility for these repairs now, that’s not reasonable at all.

The meeting voted to give the Co-op a long-term lease on the building and contribute funding to structural repairs. The council has to offer it a long-term lease on the building by July 2019.

David Blackwell said, “It feels like a new lease of life after all this time. It’s a fantastic building and it’s so nice to be able to save it for the city. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about us moving out, but this has become our home”.

 

 

 

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Save Our Bank – a history

 

Ryan Brightwell (below left), who works with Banktrack in the Netherlands, is one of the founders of Save Our Bank; he writes the newsletters and compiled the history/chronology below. Wider interests are touched on in his lively Twitter page.

Few of those who have been on board from the beginning will remember every detail in this comprehensive account and visitors to the site (below right, November record) will find the information from its website helpful:

The Save Our Bank campaign was set up in October 2013 when it became clear that the Co-operative Group would be forced to cede control of the Co-operative Bank to private investors. The first instinct for many was to close their accounts – how would the bank keep its famous ethical policy intact once it was in the hands of the hedge funds?

A few, however, thought that rather than leave, it would be better to stay, get organised and use some 21st-century crowd power to make sure the bank stayed ethical, and perhaps even return it to mutual ownership and control.

The Customer Union for Ethical Banking is an independent body representing customers of the Co-operative Bank. It aims to ensure that the bank sticks to its word on being an ethical bank with customer-led values. Members and supporters hope to see an eventual return of the bank to majority cooperative ownership. The union is a co-operative itself, democratically controlled by its 1,500 members and regulated by the FCA. You can read about its governance here.

History

Late in 2013, a deal was done to plug a huge gap in the Co-operative Bank’s balance sheet. The deal saved the bank, but it left its previous owner, the Co-operative Group, with a shareholding of only 30%, while private investors – including hedge funds – owned the rest.

A group of Co-op Bank customers set up the Save Our Bank campaign with support from Ethical Consumer magazine with two aims: to ensure that the bank sticks to its principles and, with time, to help the bank return to some form of co-operative control.

The Save Our Bank campaign launched in October 2013 with a press release “DON’T PANIC AND STICK WITH THE CO-OP SAYS SAVE OUR BANK”,  as the Co-op Bank entered a period of crisis that left the Co-op Group with only a 30% shareholding (later reduced to zero).We called on customers not to switch, but to stick together. In a few months, 10,000 had signed up to the campaign, including major charities and campaigning organisations.

In 2014 we campaigned for the bank to stick with its ethical policy and teamed up with Unite the Union to demand an ethical approach to executive pay. The bank launched an ethical survey and we scrutinized the process closely, warning the bank that slippage could result in a mass walk-out. We succeeded in getting the chief executive to promise in public that this would not be used as an excuse to water down the policy and that all existing commitments would be retained.

In 2015 the bank launched its new ethical policy, with “nowt taken out” and expanded to cover five pillars: ethical banking, workplace and culture, products and services, campaigning and ethical business. We welcomed the new policy that came as a result.

Next, we needed to move from being a campaign led by Ethical Consumer magazine to an organization in our own right, with a budget to hold the bank to account. We crowdfunded  to establish a Customer Union, smashing our £15,000 target and raising over £30,000 from over 1,500 supporters.

And in December 2015 we launched a campaign including a 38 degrees petition after the bank’s “de-risking” approach sees it close a swathe of accounts for groups like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Then at the start of 2016, the Customer Union was formally established as a co-operative. In July we held a round table with Amnesty UK on the impact of bank account closures on charities and campaign groups. Our work on this together with Amnesty leads to the bank putting in place a reinforced approach to de-risking, with the Values and Ethics team reviewing the impact of account closures. Amnesty’s UK director Kate Allen welcomed the change in practice. We also held our first Gathering in November 2016.

The start of 2017 saw the Co-op Bank put “up for sale” in a bid to further strengthen its capital position. Save Our Bank commissioned a briefing paper, “Capital raising at cooperative banks”, to inform the discussion on how the bank could raise capital in a way that enhanced rather than reduced co-operative ownership or customer control.

After a lengthy search for a buyer, the bank’s existing owners stump up more capital, and in September 2017 the process is completed. The Co-op Group’s stake in the bank falls to zero but the bank remains independent. In December 2017 we held our second gathering at which we elected an expanded six-person board of directors. We also held a vote of all Customer Union members on whether to stay with the bank under the new ownership, in which 96% voted to stay, on a 43% turnout.

In 2018 we published an analysis of the Co-op Bank’s gender pay gap figures compared to the rest of the sector. We also published an analysis of the bank’s Values and Ethics report, as well as the bank’s response to our questions. We developed some shareable images (above) for Facebook to spread the word about the Union (see here and here), and finally held our third gathering, with a speaker from Unite the Union as well as the bank’s new Communications Director Lesley McPherson.

And positive comment on the bank in the press included:

Martin Arnold, Banking Editor, noted in the Financial Times last year, “The bank’s customers have stayed remarkably loyal. The number that have their main current account with the lender — and are therefore the most valuable — has risen from 637,000 in 2012 to more than 650,000 last year”. Advisory service Cascade noted that 85% of these loyal customers cited the Bank’s ethical policy as the main root of their support.

Last month, speaking to the FT in his first full interview since taking the chief executive job in July, Andrew Bester said that the Co-operative Bank is preparing to re-enter business areas including personal lending, expansion of its core retail and SME arms, prioritising investment in new technology.#

 

 

 

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Ownership of Bristol-based film company Aardman transferred to its workforce

Visitors to this site sometimes open the worker co-operatives directory which gives a few examples of co-ops financed by employee buyouts. On rare occasions the owner has given the company to its workers, for instance the company now known as the Scott Bader Commonwealth. Read more here. The supportive work of the Baxi Partnership should also be mentioned.

For 40 years, Bristol-based film studio Aardman have made movies and television shows featuring its stop-motion clay animations Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. 

Founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord have now transferred 75% of Aardman’s shares into an employee ownership trust, which will hold the shares on behalf of the140-strong workforce. The aim is to ensure that Aardman remains independent and to secure the creative legacy and culture of the organisation.

David Sproxton, who is currently managing director, says the question of what would happen to Aardman when he and Peter retired had been raised a few times by staff. For eight years he investigated various options before they decided in April 2018 that it was the right time to take the first step towards retirement.

Aardman’s senior management team will remain in their existing roles and will form the organisation’s executive board. Sproxton will continue as managing director and Lord will stay on as creative director and focus on the company’s feature film output, including a second Shaun the Sheep movie and a sequel to Chicken Run.

Peter Lord and David Sproxton: cropped from the Bristol Post

Law firm TLT advised on the transfer. Ben Watson, partner at TLT and leader of its employee ownership team, commented: “[We] are delighted to have been able to support [Aardman] in the move to employee ownership. The employee ownership model not only helps to ensure independence for the business, it also shares the rewards with the people who contribute to its success. With Aardman’s co-founders looking to the future, giving control of the business to its highly creative and long-standing workforce was clearly a very suitable and positive way to move forwards.”

The employee ownership trust, effective from 5 November 2018, is run by a trustee board, made up of independent appointments and representatives selected by the workforce and the organisation’s board. David Pester, TLT’s managing partner, has been appointed as chairman of the trustee board.

From this website: http://employeeownership.co.uk/resources/reports/

A joint statement released by Lord and Sproxton, ended: “The statistics show that employee owned companies are significantly more successful than conventionally owned companies. So we are very excited by the prospect of seeing Aardman roll far into the future under this arrangement and can rest easy that those four decades which have slipped by have paved the way for many more years of great creativity.”

 

 

 

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Contract workers, freelancers and consultants are joining or setting up co-operatives

The combined annual turnover of co-operatives in the UK increased from £35.2bn in 2016 to £36.1bn in 2017 while a record 13m people are active members, according to news of the latest annual report put out by Co-operatives UK.

Earlier this month, Michael Pooler reported in the Financial Times, that contract workers, freelancers and consultants are joining or setting up co-operatives – companies owned by their workers or customers, rather than by outside investors. He gives two case histories:

Open Data Services

Kadie Armstrong was a freelance worker who had the opportunity to join a co-operative earlier this year. She joined Open Data Services, a prosperous business of analysts and IT professionals that provides services and develops software promoting open data resources. Her comment: “Being able to voice opinions and help shape the work and working environment without concern for hierarchy and powerplay is just great”. Its co-founder Steven Flower said: “We were all contractors and freelancers beforehand. We wanted to pool our knowledge and resources and form a company”.

Open Data Services is part of a network of co-operatives founded in 2016 called CoTech that sell technology and digital services. CoTech’s members employ some 250 people in co-operatives that have a combined revenue exceeding £10m.

Care and Share Associates

Stephen McKay has worked in social care for many years but since joining Care And Share Associates (CASA), an employee-owned limited company, for the first time has felt properly valued and listened to by his managers. As a staff representative on the company’s consultative body he can put forward views and ideas from the staff to joint meetings with the board, and hold them to account.

Despite restraints on funding for the care sector, Mr McKay says he is paid better than counterparts at many other private sector companies or charities, including support workers from other organisations who work in the same care home. He earns £8.35 per hour, compared to the national minimum wage of £7.83 for over-25s. Co-operatives are not insulated from difficult decisions. When managing director Sharon Lowrie took over earlier this year Casa was losing money. Redundancies were made and the company is now back in profit.

Michael Pooler writes: “A longstanding barrier to becoming a co-operative has been the ability to raise capital, whether for big investment projects or to use in times of financial distress. One way around this that has taken off in recent years is community shares”. His reference to community shares, which local service users or customers can buy, as a recent development is surprising – but perhaps this is just a change of name – shares in co-operatives have been sold for many years.

He comments that in an age of populism fuelled by discontent over economic inequality and the perceived failures of globalisation, those in favour of co-ops say they offer a more inclusive way of doing business and fairer distribution of wealth.

 

 

 

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Act on early warning signs of co-operative failure and increase the chance of survival

The international co-operative movement has seen a series of catastrophic failures of large scale co-operatives in recent decades, such as the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, retail co-ops in Germany, France and Atlantic Canada, banking in Austria and the near meltdown of the Co-operative Group in the UK.

‘When Big Co-ops Fail’ is a 2016 study by Peter Couchman (the Plunkett Foundation) and Professor Murray Fulton (Director of the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan).

It indicates that co-ops which fail present similar early warning signs. These include:

  • falling silent on co-op identity,
  • having managers with no interest or belief in the model,
  • over-confidence
  • and lack of board oversight

The paper suggests that the root of failure is being unable to understand the nature of a co-operative.

“The earliest sign is a co-operative which sees being a co-operative as a problem, not a solution”, they warn.

The research is based on analyses of crises at big co-ops. It found that directors who fail to understand their role in a co-op are likely to appoint managers who are not supportive fi the movement’s values and import mainstream solutions rather than adopt a co-operative one.

It ends by presenting the antidote to the problem

Acting on the earlier signs rather than waiting for the inevitable can dramatically reduce the loss of member value and increase the chance of survival. It can also reduce the damage to the co-operative movement of yet another cooperative going down in flames.

It is everyone’s business to raise the alarm when these signs are visible (Ed: as several of our readers did well before the 2013 crisis). Co-operatives do fail, and this should be acknowledged and discussed in a serious and thought-provoking way, in every context from day-to-day conversations to global conferences. 

 

 

 

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The Bank answers questions about its 2017 Values and Ethics Report

An August Save our Bank Facebook entry highlights a new survey from ClientEarth, which says: “The British public said quite clearly they want their banks and pension funds to avoid investments in fossil fuel projects and were surprised to learn that this might be the case.” The Co-op Bank is the UK’s only high street bank to exclude finance for fossil fuel extraction. That’s NO to coal mining, coal power, oil and gas extraction, fracking, tar sands pipelines…

Save our Bank is a campaign mounted by the Customer Union for Ethical Banking –  a co-operative, democratic member organisation that can hold the bank to account, campaign for a larger co-operative voice and buy shares in the bank to help build up the co-operative stake.

The Co-op Bank provided the following response to the four questions put to it by Save our Bank after reviewing its 2017 Values and Ethics Report. The bank has a good record of engaging with the Save Our Bank campaign as a representative of ethically motivated customers, and we appreciate them taking the time to respond. 

Response from the Co-operative Bank to the Save Our Bank campaign, 17th September 2018 (edited).

Thank you for taking the time to provide this feedback on our Values and Ethics Report and for your supportive comments. The continued success of the Ethical Policy is built on the support of informed stakeholders such as yourselves and your contribution as representatives of customers’ views is important as the Bank moves forward to a position of strength. Taking your points in turn:

  1. In 2011 and 2012, before the bank’s recent financial problems were revealed, the percentage of finance opportunities declined by the Ethics team averaged 10% of those reviewed. This year, around 3.5% of business opportunities reviewed were declined, and the average in the five years from 2013 to 2017 has also been around 3%. Can the bank comment on the reasons for this change, and can it provide details of the percentage of ethical policy applications received and declined by type over this period, e.g. for small business banking vs larger corporate loans?

This change is driven by our renewed focus on small to medium sized businesses as the key focus for our business banking -, including credit unions, social enterprises, charities and co-operatives. The size, type and nature of these businesses mean that while all business application are screened, there are fewer referrals for a higher level of Ethical Policy. Of 648 business customer referrals to the Ethical Policy Unit 2015 – 2017 89% were SMEs.

  1. The Values and Ethics Report notes that an existing customer was declined as it was involved in the fur trade. This indicates the Ethical Policy was breached in this instance – although this has been rectified, and we understand that no system can be 100% watertight. Can the bank provide more information about how long this business had been a customer of the bank, and when the businesses moved into a position of breaching the ethical policy? Does the bank consider that changes to process are needed to avoid such breaches occurring in future?

Although not a regular occurrence, it is possible for customers previously assessed as compliant with the Policy to move into a position of conflict if the nature of their business activities changes. Customer screening takes place at various times during the operation of their accounts, for instance as a result of a request for additional facilities, and not just at the account opening stage. We can’t comment on individual customers but can confirm that it during a subsequent screening that this issue came to light and the account was closed.

  1. Can the bank consider providing more detail in next year’s report on customers turned away for reasons of risk management, particularly those reviewed by the Exit Forum? For example, type of business or organisation, type of issue raised, type of reason for account closure.

While we will consider this recommendation, it is important to understand that when accounts are closed for reasons of fraud and money laundering there are legal reasons why this type of disclosure may not be possible.

  1. The report’s auditors, DNV, provide a ‘limited level’ of assurance, rather than a ‘reasonable level’ of assurance. Can the bank comment on whether a ‘limited level’ of assurance is sufficient to reassure stakeholders that the ethical policy is is being implemented to the highest standard, and on the implications of requesting a ‘reasonable level’ of assurance in future?

We believe the level of assurance provided is robust and sufficient to provide the right level of assurance for our customers.

See the replies in full here: https://saveourbank.coop/BankResponseValuesEthics2018

Save our Bank Gathering, Saturday 24th November

The annual get-together will be held in Manchester. It will be an opportunity for Save Our Bank supporters and members of the Customer Union to get together to discuss strategy for the coming year. The main theme for this year’s gathering will be ownership, and the practical steps which can be taken to campaign for and work towards returning the Co-op Bank to co-operative ownership, in whole or in part.

Details on the venue and how to register will be given in the next newsletter and on this site.

 

 

 

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