Melin Tregwynt in Castlemorris: another employee-owned business

“This is how it should be done” writes Andy from Wales, drawing attention to a BBC report that Melin Tregwynt in Pembrokeshire is becoming an employee ownership trust to ensure the future of the business.

Regular readers will recall earlier accounts of Go Ape, Richer Sounds, Scotland’s Turnberry Rug Works, the Architects Design Partnership and Aardman of Wallace and Grommit fame moving to employee ownership.

Melin Tregwynt is a woollen mill in a remote wooded valley on the Pembrokeshire coast. There has been a mill on this site since the 17th century, when local farmers would bring their fleeces to be spun into yarn and woven into sturdy Welsh wool blankets

In a wide-ranging BBC Wales report about several businesses, Nicola Bryan records that this third-generation company is now run by Eifion and Amanda Griffiths who employ more than 30 people at Melin Tregwynt in Castlemorris, Haverfordwest.

His grandfather bought the mill, then called Dyffryn, at auction in 1912 for £760 and, after training as an architect, Eifion returned home in the ’80s to help his parents. He was determined to ensure the mill had a future: “We wanted to stay as a Welsh company and we wanted to continue weaving in this part of Wales”.

A typical ‘tapestry’ design

There is huge demand for their traditional Welsh blankets, “fast out stripping supply”, and after the UK, the company’s largest trade market is Japan: “They understood the power of the story, and the history of product because their own history of craftsmanship is extraordinary.”

Manufacturing at the mill had to stop in the first Covid lockdown but during that time online sales grew. He said their biggest issue was the supply chain: “Getting the yarn in quickly enough, and making it quickly enough to get it out again.”

As they near retirement, Eifion and Amanda Griffiths have decided to set up an employee ownership trust, Eifion said this was a way of ensuring the business does not get sold on and lose its heart.

“If it goes somewhere else the product may not change but the way that it’s made and the circumstances around that and the environment might change and we don’t want to do that . . . We don’t want to preserve it as if it was a museum, but we want to preserve some of the aspects of the traditional way of weaving and this seems to be the best way to do it.”

Their plans mean that the business would “in effect be owned by everybody who’s working in the business”. Employees will be given shares and bonuses while they are working for the company and the management team continue to run the business as before. He and his wife plan to continue in the business for some years but “step back from the day to day and take a more strategic view”.

Derek Walker of the Wales Co-operative Centre said it was natural to consider giving ownership to staff since those employees have helped to build the business. He notes that employee ownership keeps jobs in the local community and is good for the business because great improvements are seen in productivity in sectors from tech to textiles, from restaurants to TV production.

 

 

 

 

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The Co-operative recognised as the best ESG British high street bank

Nick Slape, Chief Executive of the Co-operative Bank is celebrating the New Year by looking back as well as looking forward. Though c2020 the bank shed 350 middle management jobs, closed 18 branches and wrote down many loans given to businesses struggling during the crisis, its financial performance is now significantly stronger – see the widely reported trading update.

A video records some of the bank’s achievements from the year 1974, when free banking was offered to customers in credit – with a spoken commentary and slides with subtitles in this format:

Early measures noted include the 1992 setting up of its customer-led ethical policy, refusing to finance fossil fuel extraction (1998) and calling for bans on landmines and cluster bombs.

In 2006, 22,000 bank customers lobbied MPs to support a Climate Change Bill (page 3).

More recent achievements include partnering Centrepoint to help homeless youth (2017-2022) and Zero Hour – a youth-led movement creating entry points, training, and resources for new young activists and organizers (and adults who support its vision) wanting to take concrete action around climate change.

In 2021 the bank’s customers were invited to take part in the bank’s sixth Values & Ethics Poll; their responses will help to shape and update its customer-led Ethical Policy; this helps to guide how its business is done and defines the issues customers want the bank to support.

Independent experts Sustainalytics recognised the Co-operative Bank as the UK’s best ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) rated high street bank. This news was published in the bank’s 2020 annual sustainability report – one of a remarkable series of reports.

Nick Slape predicts that 2022 is going to be a memorable year. It will see the launch of the refreshed Ethical Policy and the 50th anniversary of ethical banking.

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Belated: Wednesday 3rd November: participate in the Co-operative Bank research

The Co-operative Bank has asked Save Our Bank to share the invitation below with Customer Union members to participate in the next phase of ethical policy development. If you are interested, please communicate directly with the Co-operative Bank at the address indicated.

The Co-operative Bank have had a customer-led Ethical Policy for almost 30 years and you may have participated recently in their Values and Ethics Poll to help them shape the future Ethical Policy.

The Bank has appointed BritainThinks, an independent research agency, to conduct further research with their customers and they would love to get your input on refreshing the Ethical Policy. The research will involve exploring your priorities for the Ethical Policy. They are interested in hearing your honest and personal views and you do not need to prepare anything before taking part.

The workshop will be a 90-minute virtual group session (conducted on Zoom) on Wednesday 3 November at 17:00-18:30.

If this research is of interest and you would like to opt in, please email ethicalworkshop@co-operativebank.co.uk with the subject line ‘interested’.

If you are eligible, a member of The Co-operative Bank team will be in touch to confirm your availability. Those who take part will receive Love2shop vouchers to the amount of £50 to thank them for their time.

Saturday 20th November – The Save Our Bank Gathering

In just six weeks we’ll be holding our annual Gathering online. Join us to discuss strategies and actions for returning the Co-op Bank to cooperative ownership, and how we are working to hold the bank to its ethical policy, including through the recent Ethical Poll and the coming policy update. We also expect to have a representative from the Co-op Bank who can answer our questions, and members of our Specialist Panel of experts advising us on the ownership question.

The Gathering is free to attend, and will take place in the afternoon of Saturday 20th September, from 1pm. Please register to attend here and you’ll receive details of how to join via Zoom.

 

 

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Go Ape, the latest employee ownership recruit

There are now 115 public-sector mutuals in England, including the Behavioural Insights Team, or nudge unit, which works to solve government problems. “The data is overwhelmingly in favour of the mutual model,” says Stephen Kelly, who helped to lead the public sector’s push for employee ownership.

Sharon White comments on the partnership model: “Unlike Amazon, John Lewis is not trying to suck up profit for its founder’s space ambitions. Unlike Next, it is not trying to channel money back to external shareholders. It is trying to do business differently, to broaden its social impact”.

Husband and wife founders of Go Ape Tristram and Rebecca Mayhew

Jonathan Moules reports in the Financial Times that Go Ape, the treetop adventure business with 1000 employees which operates sites across 35 locations in the UK and 16 US states is to adopt the John Lewis employee-owned model.

Husband and wife founders of Go Ape Tristram and Rebecca Mayhew, who founded the highly successful company in 2002, have stepped back from executive roles but will sit on the board of trustees of the new entity. They sold 90% of their shareholding for an undisclosed sum to create the new structure, which will pay the company’s full-time employees an estimated £3,200 per year.

Moules comments that this move echoes the actions of upmarket hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds, Richer Sounds, whose founder Julian Richer handed control of the business in 2019 to his 500 staff by transferring 60% of his stake into an employee-owned trust. (See Richer Sounds: another employee-owned company | Concerned Co-operators).

Like Richer, the Mayhews were driven in part by their desire for the company to be controlled by the people that have got to know it as employees rather than third-party investors. “Go Ape has always felt like part of our family,” said Rebecca Mayhew, who together with her husband have stepped back from executive roles but will sit on the board of trustees of the new entity. “We knew deep down we would never be comfortable selling the business to private equity.”

Tristram Mayhew, who has retained the title of Chief Gorilla he took when he was Go Ape’s managing director, said: “We trust and respect the tremendous team we have in place to deliver a successful future for everyone in Go Ape to share.“

 

 

 

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The Co-operative Bank: some good news

The Customer Union for Ethical Banking, the independent union for customers of The Co-operative Bank, reports that the bank turned a small profit in the first quarter of the year – a sign that that the bank is being seen as a more interesting investment. It hopes that some of the large financial sector mutuals will be the next to take an interest.

Money Expert declared the Co-op’s Everyday Extra packaged bank accounts to be the best in the market, next to Nationwide’s, saying “the Co-operative Bank’s account is better if you can meet the terms to earn the maximum cashback and have a holiday booked within the next year.”

The union reviewed the Co-op Bank’s new Sustainability Report and posed some questions to the bank. Their answers are included in this review  and here is a summary of the questions with the bank’s responses.

Topics included financed emissions, as well as several service issues including phone delays, website issues, email; security; third party access to accounts in times of personal crises, and some in-depth comments on the bank’s business banking platform.

The union congratulates the bank on its high ranking by sustainability ratings agency Sustainalytics. It has been awarded “the best ESG rating of any UK high street bank”.

The ratings are used mainly by investors who want to take into consideration the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of the companies they invest in. The bank announced the ranking with a press release claiming that “only 15% of UK adults are aware of their bank’s ESG rating” .

 

Read the latest Customer Union newsletter here.

 

 

 

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Nationalise energy companies? Or encourage community energy co-operatives to proliferate, ultimately replacing the centralised system?

The government is proposing to bail out the energy monopolies with public money and Ben Chacko comments that this means:

“A failing privatised model a favour that will be repaid with higher energy bills and continued foot-dragging on climate change”.

For years energy regulator Ofgem and ministers have pushed the myth that consumer choice is the route out of fuel poverty but – as a Sunday Times study found last year – average gas bills rose by 18% in the decade from 2010 and electricity bills by a whopping 44%, while wages lagged behind 4% over 10 years. Ofgem has now announced it would allow increases of up to £153 in annual bills, the biggest hike since the energy cap was introduced.

The GMB union has been warning the government of a looming energy crisis for years and Labour‘s last election manifesto promised to nationalise energy. Ben said that the case for doing so is stronger than ever, but some would say that a more radical, climate-friendly option is to support the growing community energy network.

Community energy projects allow local communities to generate renewable energy, access cheaper energy, work on reducing energy use and on improved energy efficiency options.

Co-op Power describes them as self-organizing, setting their own agenda based on local energy priorities, raising capital from their members and investing it in their own local energy projects. They organize their own buying groups, contracting with local vendors to bring them the energy resources they need.

It is regrettable that Government policy changes relating to renewable tariffs have reduced the economic viability of community energy projects.

The Choose guide to community energy lists the social and economic benefits to a local area. They include:

  • low-cost energy generation for homes, community buildings and schools,
  • reduction of fuel poverty,
  • reduced transportation cost when EV charging infrastructure is introduced
  • local job creation,
  • increased community confidence at achieving something together,
  • improved community cohesion,
  • potential for increased local prosperity strengthens community and
  • community benefit funds can be funnelled into local priorities.

As a matter of security – not political allegiance – water, energy and transport (goods and people) should be taken out of foreign ownership, nationalised or regionally organised.

 

 

 

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South Caernarfon Creameries Co-operative

In July IPMS dairy bulletin highlighted the news that South Caernarfon Creameries Co-op has announced this is the ‘best year ever’

South Caernarfon Creameries (SCC), set up over 80 years ago, is Wales’s only farmer-owned dairy co-operative. It has worked on the same site near Pwllheli, and has 134 members located in North Wales, Mid Wales and Ceredigion.

Its farmers work together, have a say in their future and that of the Creamery and also own a share in the company.

SCC uses only locally sourced milk, grazed in Welsh pastures which has dual language on all packaging and a successful brand of cheese and butter called ‘Dragon’.

With a healthy operating margin of 5.6% the Co-op has decided to distribute 23.5% of its profits to its 136 farmer-supplier members in the form of a bonus.

A Sainsburys delegation inspects SCC’s Cavern Aged Cheddar at Llechwedd

Co-operative Societies operate for the benefit of their members and reinvest profits in the business, distributing any surplus to members (government guide).

In 2016, SCC invested in a new state-of-the-art production and packing plant where their range of cheeses is matured, cut and packaged for the UK and the international market as well as supermarkets, village and corner shops across Wales. Re-investment continued this year with SCC investing £2.2m into its facilities during the year.

Business Live reports that a three-year £14.4m SSC expansion expected to increase cheese production by 50% and create 30 new jobs by 2024 has been awarded a £5m grant from the Welsh Government Food Business Investment Scheme.

SCC contact details https://www.welshcountry.co.uk/south-caernarfon-creameries/

 

 

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The Co-operative Bank seeks a fairer deal for women

The Co-operative Bank has one of the lowest gender pay gaps among British banks on the British high street. All the banks have a huge discrepancy in the average hourly pay rates for men and women, with women earning a median figure of 22.6% less than men. (The median is the middle figure when the hourly rates of all staff are listed in ascending order.) The big high street banks all do worse – see the table below.

Data from Business Insider and the UK government’s website

HM Treasury Women in Finance: Charter commitment progress update and Gender Pay Gap Reporting 2020 by Nick Slape, the Co-operative Bank’s Chief Executive Officer:

“Our target was to increase female representation in our senior leadership from 32% to 40% by 2020 and I am pleased to report we now have 42% women in senior roles at our Bank. Like many financial services firms, our Bank employs more women than men and a higher proportion of women than men in our customer facing roles which influences our gender pay gap.

“We are confident that in the long term, our focused work on gender inclusion and balance at all levels will result in our gender pay gap narrowing. I confirm the Gender Pay Gap Reporting data in this document to be accurate.”

 

 

 

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ICC helped Clapton Community Football Club to buy its ground

ICOF Community Capital Ltd (ICC) is an investment society offering individuals and organisations withdrawable membership shares. Its capital is used to provide loan finance to a wide range of community businesses, social enterprises and co- operatives.

It supports the growing number of UK communities taking control and delivering local solutions to meet local needs, for example:

  • saving their local pub or shop
  • re-opening the local swimming baths
  • creating employment for people with disabilities
  • providing affordable housing solutions

During the year ICC helped Clapton Football Club, who play  In 1888 Clapton FC – the oldest senior football ground in London – began playing at the ground which took its name from this derelict pub – the Old Spotted Dog in Upton Lane near Forest Gate station which was also ‘rescued’ last year.

Over 80 years ago, Clapton were one of England’s most powerful amateur sides, winning the prestigious F.A. Amateur Cup five times.

Clapton Community FC was established in June 2018 as a fan-owned and fan- operated community club, by the life members and supporters of Clapton FC. It now has over 1,300 members worldwide. ICC investment helped supporters to purchase their ground and secure its future as permanent community asset of Forest Gate in East London.

Clapton Community Football Club completed the purchase of the historic Old Spotted Dog Ground on 24 July 2020, following a long campaign by the fans to regain their home. A very detailed account of the transaction may be read here.

 

 

 

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Community energy in Grimsby: reskilled locals make onshored renewable energy components

“No progressive social action can effectively advance its cause without explicitly expressing the concerns of ‘the left behind’, including those who may very well become left behind in the future because of an accelerated transition out of fossil fuels” (Jonathon Porritt, Hope in Hell).

People in North Yorkshire’s coastal areas gradually leave oil-related industries to work in the renewable energy sector

Melanie Onn (above) points out – in the Financial Times – that the offshore wind industry is bringing significant industrial benefits to the UK with factories and supply chain companies in coastal communities around the country.

Melanie, the Deputy Chief Executive of London-based Renewable UK, saw this at first hand as the MP representing communities in Grimsby, which offshore wind is helping to transform by offering reskilling and employment opportunities:

  • manufacturing massive offshore wind turbine blades,
  • manufacturing cables,
  • laying foundations,
  • and providing boats and crews,
  • construction teams,
  • and turbine technicians.

As Sebastian Payne pointed out in an earlier FT article: “A shift to green industry is not only essential for the obvious priority of saving the planet from irreversible global warming; it can also provide exactly what the struggling towns of England have been yearning — and voting — for: prosperity. Even voters who are sceptical of environmentalism can buy into green policies if they are convinced they will achieve that goal”.

 

 

 

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