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A Magazine for Sheffield

Co-operatives Pay Dividends

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Andy Cropper, 'Alley', 2016 (acrylic and oil on panel, 50x50cm)

Richer Sounds in Broomhall has sold quality hi-fi equipment at cheap prices for years, with enthusiastic and knowledgeable service. Now aged 60, the founder of this national business has decided to give 60% of his company to the employees. That's 60% of the way to mutual ownership.

The trend for baby-boomer business owners retiring has been noticed in the world of co-operatives. Doug O'Brien of the American co-operatives body NCBA CLUSA, speaking recently in Cheshire, predicted a 'silver tsunami' of opportunity for co-op conversions. This is only one way that co-operatives are growing. Around a billion people are now involved in co-operatives.

Among Sheffield co-operatives there's a lot happening. Regather is changing to a different type of co-op with more community ownership. Red Haus cafe and bookshop on Abbeydale Road is becoming a co-op. Alt-Sheff, the alternative website run by a co-op and hosted by Webarchitects co-op, is being relaunched later this year. Sheffield hosted a UK gathering of tech co-ops called CoTech last month, with accommodation help from housing co-ops. An academic workshop on community economies takes place here this month and so does the Community Energy England conference, with input from Sheffield Renewables. Also this month we have the annual Co-operatives Fortnight. Sheffield has co-ops for cycling, food, music, health, and even a co-operative pub, The Gardeners Rest in Neepsend.

Co-operatives are, like all organisations, always changing, but they plan for the long term, with loyalty to the people in them. Established co-ops have a maturity and sense of solidarity that many hire-and-fire companies can only dream of.

Around a billion people are now involved in co-operatives

Every co-op is owned by its members and ultimately steers its own destiny. Problems can be resolved by committee agreements. Contrast that with most jobs, where workers don't get a say in what happens. It's having power over planning.

Co-ops aren't capitalist organisations, but they don't fit into the voluntary sector either. They're rarely grant-funded and don't have to use market finance because there are co-operative loan funds instead. Slow but steady growth is common and so is mutual support.

When Co-ops Yorkshire & Humberside voted to close, it gave its remaining funds to help Principle 5 co-op resources centre run its archive, library and reading room in Aizlewood's Mill in Sheffield. This type of co-operation may seem like an unfair advantage and it would be the exception to the rule for other companies, where laws on competition apply. But co-operation between co-ops is different. In fact, it's International Co-operative Principle number six.

Although each co-op has to look after itself, it's also part of a movement. This means working with other co-ops in preference and the result is growth for all co-ops. If it's dark, you may light a candle. If you share it with someone else who's got a candle, even better.

If you're thinking of starting a co-op or converting an existing business to one, you'll find many comrades ready to support you. Sheffield Co-operative Development Group can lead you through the legal and organisational stuff. Principle 5 is an organisation offering information, named after a co-operative principle number five - education, training, and information.

Why not join the co-operative wave this year?

Hosted by Alt-Sheff


4 June - early July | WEA Sheffield Learning Centre, S9 3RH | £35

'Active citizen' Nigel Slack offers this course with the Workers' Educational Association. Across five sessions he shines a light on how councils make decisions and how people can have a say in their sometimes complex processes.


Sat 8 June | 12-8pm | Ponderosa Park, S10 1BA | Free

Sheffield's music and peace festival offers five music stages, food, campaign stalls and kids' activities. It's free entry, run entirely by volunteers and funded by donations and fundraiser gigs. MIMO.

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