Following our post about MP John Hemmings’ hopes of forming a co-operative with formers Remploy employees in Garretts Green Birmingham, came more good news. A reader, Adrian Ashton, commented that a number of phoenix type co-ops have emerged from Remploy factories in recent years. Adrian was involved in setting up the Bolton social enterprise Ability Tec Ltd. Read more about his experience here.
One link he sent led to news of skilled workers in York whose disabilities have left them struggling to find jobs. Several articles in the York Press record that former workers of the closed York Remploy factory joined forces with unions to raise the £56,000 needed to set up the York Disabled Workers Co-operative.
Using reclaimed timber, it specialises in the production of garden furniture and pet accommodation. Items for sale include birdboxes, planters, doorstops, pet houses, outdoor furniture, fencing and decking. Rates of pay are far in excess of the minimum wage.
In the Co-operative News, Kevin McGrother credits the support of a small group of union activists who, despite setbacks, and — in their view — broken promises, eventually found a viable alternative to the closed factory. Kevin Hepworth of the Unite union, who was a member of a consortium formed by Unite and GMB members and officials, said: “The York closure had been a very emotive one. We felt the people had been treated badly and we were determined not to abandon them.”
Phil Davies, national secretary for manufacturing with the GMB, said the company would be self-sufficient and hoped it would rapidly expand to take on more staff. He said: “We hope to develop over the next couple of years into other products such as silk-screen printing”.
John Wilson, one of 51 workers who have been unemployed since the closure of Remploy in 2008, described the Disabled Workers Co-operative as a “blueprint for other factories” to give opportunities to disabled people and start employing more disabled people. It receives no central or Government funds and relies entirely on donations.
Ability Tec Ltd acquired the assets of Remploy Bolton, creating jobs for former employees at the factory which closed in August and has announced plans to create a training centre for companies who want to employ disabled people.
The factory will be managed by former Remploy employees, with a board of directors overseen by independent trustees including Dr Brian Sloan, chief economist of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
This social enterprise, operating out of the former Remploy site, will move to new local premises in January, manufacturing high grade printed circuit board assemblies and using a workforce of whom at least 75% are disabled. Former Remploy manager and quality assurance technician, Carl Lawton, has gone back to work at the factory after the takeover.
The idea was put forward by entrepreneur Oliver Randell, co-founder of Local Business Partners, who saw the potential for a sustainable business that reinvests profits for social good.
Oliver Randell explained:
“The new company will operate on similar lines to John Lewis, with employees sharing the profits and reinvesting funds to create new jobs and new product lines. We have our first orders confirmed to get us off the ground but we need new customers who want to work with a business that makes quality products with a social benefit . . . Our job now is to seek new customers, pitching ourselves as a high quality supplier that happens to create social benefits for disabled employees. We believe that in a market where there is little to choose between suppliers we stand out for all the right reasons.”
“Our principal customer supplies energy saving devices to the social housing sector and we will be working closely with them to show to local authorities and social landlords that they can save their tenants money, reduce carbon emissions and provide secure employment to disabled workers who faced a difficult future after the closure of Remploy. Within Greater Manchester alone there are enough socially owned properties, to provide work to employ more than 30 disabled workers if they were fitted with the energy saving devices we make.”