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A Magazine for Sheffield

Agency in the Workplace: Gripple

Our series on worker ownership continues with Sheffield manufacturing company Gripple. Team leader Liz Lake tells us about her experiences in part-owning the company she works for.

Gripple Riverside scaled

Gripple's Riverside Works in Carbrook, near Meadowhall.

Series supported by Ownership Hub logo

This piece is part of our generative inquiry entitled Agency in the Workplace, exploring worker ownership and worker control of organisations in South Yorkshire through the stories of local people. We are also hosting two events as part of Festival of Debate 2023: What if everyone had real agency in their workplace? (17 May) and Co-ownership drop-in session (23 May).

Gripple was founded in 1984 by businessman Hugh Facey. Starting with a simple manufacturing innovation – a wire-joining device made in a disused furniture factory in Birley – the business now trades internationally with a wide range of products and divisions.

Facey made the decision to convert the business to employee ownership in the 90s, with workers able to buy shares in their company from 1994. Since 2011, Gripple has been 100% owned by its workers, who can choose to invest more or less in the company, driving a culture of engagement and motivation which feeds into collective financial return.

Gripple team leader Liz Lake told us about her experience of working at the 20th largest employee-owned business in the UK.

Hello Liz! Let’s jump straight in, shall we? How has having ownership and control in your workplace changed your life?

Hello! I'm a team leader at Gripple, so for me one of the things that I think it really helps with is that all my team are really engaged. It's easy for me to ask things of them, and to explain changes and new processes, because it benefits all of us.

From that point of view, it makes a massive difference for me [as a team leader]. I don't have to ‘sell’ things to people – they already understand. And if they don't understand, I can show them, I can explain to them, how this will be better for us. It's our business. And so yeah, it definitely makes my life in that sense a lot easier.

I can see how that makes sense. Holistically, the team has all got more equal representation. Kind of an extension of that – why is ownership or control important to you?

I think because it allows us to make decisions for the people. It allows us to decide to do things not because it's necessarily always the best financial decision, but because we can. We can choose to do things because it's going to allow our people to progress, we can share the benefits with them. So it just makes making those decisions easier. I can do things for the right reasons – not always financial benefit, I guess.

One of the things that I'd say how Gripple’s changed my life is that I've found a new confidence in myself, because my voice is listened to – not all the time, you know, sometimes [laughs]. But because I've found somewhere where what I've got to offer is of benefit, it's built a confidence in me. I can speak to different people [from] any different backgrounds… about Gripple. And I think I am passionate about it as well. That definitely helps!

What commitments do you hold that are important for you to honour?

Being open and honest. I like being able to tell people the full picture, because if you're asking somebody to do something, it's nice to be able to tell them the reason why you're asking them.

I can go down and share our daily sales figures, I can show people the business performance, and I can be completely open.

I mean, I've worked in some big corporations and then also small businesses. There were four of us in the last place where I worked, but it still didn't have the same sort of feel. It was still one person making a decision and you've just been told that's what you're going to do. Whereas with my team here, we sit down once a week and we will look at the sales figures and stuff. For me, that seems quite normal now.

What is the best thing that could happen? And what would you like to see happen next?

I've recently been elected to Glide, which is our employee ownership group, so I'm a Glide rep now.

I guess for me personally, the best thing that could happen is for me to learn about more employee-owned businesses, different models and how they're different to ours, and perhaps offer different things to the business. And then maybe just share that with my colleagues, my team, and help them understand why we are quite special. But also if there's anything else that we could include, as a wider business.

We've got four Glide reps: a team leader, someone who works on my team, a packing operative, a warehouse operative and we've got a quality engineer. So we then go represent our site at the Glide board meetings, and we can question MDs [managing directors] on any business decisions. We'll read their board report beforehand and we can drill them for more information that we can then share with people.

It takes everybody out of their box and really further just evens the playing field.

What do you feel like you need from the wider community in order to make those goals happen?

To be honest, I know that we are quite well known within employee ownership circles. I know that we reach out to businesses, but they're starting to reach out towards [Gripple] more and more. So that's brilliant. We can share our model, but also learn about how theirs differs. Recently we met with Go Ape, and they've recently moved over to employee ownership. So yeah, that's a way that we're enabling more enrichment and we're getting involved with their business.

If worker-controlled organisations became the norm, how would communities in South Yorkshire change, do you think?

In a more engaged workforce, there'd be a lot more investment, probably locally, I'd have thought, because one of the things that people like about Gripple is that no one's creaming the profits off. We're not working for ‘the man’ or anything – it's all for us. We're taking it back ourselves through dividends.

We also manage our own investment, whether that be in buildings and premises or machinery, and people as well. That's done in all of our regions. Locally, we can invest in, say, training for people and improving the factories, buy new machines, which we would source, again, locally.

So yeah, I think that the investment and the growth…. It’d be amazing.

Was there anything that has come up whilst you've been chatting to me today that's made more meaning for you?

Yeah, definitely.

I know how special Gripple is and I'm quite proud to be an ambassador for Gripple and tell everybody about it. But it just reminds you about how different we are and how empowering that is, and the confidence that it gives people. When you start to think of it, it puts it into perspective why this is such a special place to work.

Next in series

Agency in the Workplace: Regather

Co-founder Gareth Roberts tells us how, and why, agency and control in the workplace should be available to everyone – not just those in the cooperative movement.

More Agency in the Workplace

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