Resource type: Case Studies

Calverts workers handbook

This example of an internal handbook is from Calverts. There’s also a general profile of this co-op in our case studies resource.


1 Introduction
2 Calverts as a workers coop
3 Employees becoming Members
4 How we organise and manage Calverts
5 Co-op meetings
6 Your Employment Agreement
7 Hours of work and timekeeping
8 Our environment, and working safely
9 Time off
10 Other benefits
11 Disciplinary procedure
12 Grievance procedure
13 Loss of Membership

1 Introduction

1.1 This handbook is to help new people get familiar with working at Calverts, and remind Members what they signed up for. It contains information about Calverts policies and procedures.

1.2 The handbook is given to all workers, and it gets updated from time to time. Along with your job offer letter, job description and individual Employment Agreement, it forms part of the contract between Calverts, its workers and Members. We are individually and collectively bound by the policies set out here, or otherwise agreed by the Members.

2 Calverts is a workers coop

2.1 Calverts is like any other firm in some ways, and different in others. From the outside, it may look like any other company. Unlike most other companies, we are a cooperative. A co-op is a group of people organising to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs, through a jointly-owned and democratically owned enterprise.

2.2 We’re a workers coop. Most firms exist to provide profit for the owners. Calverts exists to provide decent work. By that we mean jobs that are well paid and secure, with equality, dignity and respect, the opportunity to develop peoples’ skills and aptitudes, and to collectively self-manage our working lives.

2.3 There are other kinds of coops, providing housing, financial services, shops, shared services and so on, for their Members. Coops around the world have agreed on a basic set of values. The co-op values are self-help, self-responsibility, equality, equity and solidarity.

2.4 We put these values into action using the seven co-op principles:

• open and voluntary Membership
• democratic control
• Member economic participation
• autonomy and independence
• Member and public co-op education
• cooperation between cooperatives
• care for community

2.5 What these values and principles mean for a worker co-op in practice, are set out in a booklet called the Worker Co-op Code. You can read or download the Code at

2.6 Calverts is committed to equal opportunity policies in relation to recruitment, employment and training practices. You can read our Equality and diversity policy at [internal link]

2.7 In short, a worker co-op is a firm that is owned by, controlled by, and for the benefit of, its worker Members and the wider community. The Members of Calverts collectively own and control the coop. They direct its activity, sharing the benefits and management responsibilities that membership brings.

3 Employees becoming Members

3.1 As a Calverts employee, you have the same legal rights and responsibilities as you’d have in any other job. Your tax and national insurance status treatment the same. You have legal rights to a safe working environment, to paid time off, to join a union, and so on. When you become a Member of the coop, this doesn’t change – it’s just that Members are also co-owners, with the special legal powers and responsibilities that come with being a Director.

3.2 Only people employed by Calverts under an open-ended Employment Agreement to work 14 hours a week or more, can become co-op Members. There is an induction process for these workers, to get the understanding and co-op skills they will need over and above the specific job skills they were recruited for. In general, it takes about 9 months from when you first take a job at Calverts, to the point when you’ll be invited to join. It takes new people time to ‘get’ the Calverts culture and learn co-op skills. It also takes time for us to be sure you’ll make an effective Member.

3.3 During the 9 months, you’ll get support and advice to help you gain an understanding of Calverts’ financial management, what co-op Membership means on the day-to-day level, and what being a Director involves. If possible, we’ll send you on at least one external co-op event.

3.4 As a Member, you will be expected to put yourself forward to carry out one or more of the special roles and tasks needed to run the co-op – for instance co-op secretary, health and safety officer, personnel officer, environmental manager, meeting facilitator, co-op chair or co-op treasurer.

3.5 Other than a symbolic £1 share, it doesn’t cost anything to become a Member. When you leave, your Membership finishes and you don’t get to take away your ‘share’ of the value of the coop. In other words, the co-op belongs collectively to whoever the Members are at any point in time. As people arrive and leave, that ownership and control is passed on.

4 How we organise and manage Calverts

4.1 No Member of Calverts is any other Member’s boss, and every Calverts Member is paid the same. In most firms, there are line managers whose job it is to make all the important decisions, tell people what to do, to hire and fire.

4.2 At Calverts, we have collective self-management in the way we govern the co-op. On the day-to-day level, our productive work is managed by production co-ordinators. This co-ordination is a business process, rather than something that confers special status or power. This way of working means that Members must show a high level of personal and collective responsibility – using their skills and capacities productively, for the development of the coop; upholding the coop’s policies; positively contributing to the coop’s culture; treating their colleagues respectfully and as equals; being honest, open and accountable to each other; and complying with any reasonable work or support request made by another Member or by the coop.

4.3 We work in overlapping departmental team circles. Each team is responsible for making sure its department works well, and has a lot of say in how it is run. Team Members are accountable to each other, and each team is accountable to the other teams, so that decisions don’t get made that go against the interests of the co-op as a whole – or make other peoples’ jobs more difficult.

5 Co-op Meetings

5.1 Co-op policies, or major issues affecting everyone, are discussed and decided by the whole co-op at regular Monthly Meetings. This is when Members receive and review formal reports on things like Calverts financial and sales performance.

5.2 Attendance at the Monthly Meetings is mandatory for all co-op Members. It’s a key part of Membership. The only reason for a Member not to be at a Monthly Meeting is if it coincides with pre-booked leave, if they are ill, or if they have a personal emergency. If a Member does not plan to be at a meeting, they should normally send a formal apology to the co-op Secretary, with a reason for the absence. In any case, Members must attend at least 9 Monthly Meetings out of 12 in a calendar year, unless a dispensation has been requested by the Member concerned, and agreed by the other Members.

5.3 From time to time, Calverts has a longer special meeting. These are often held away from the office, to give time and space to work on complex issues or long-term strategy. These meetings are also mandatory for Members.

5.4 Check-in meetings are held between Monthly Meetings, to keep track of progress and deal with anything urgent. Anyone working at Calverts office when a check-in meeting is held, is normally expected to attend – but it is not mandatory.

5.5 We also form special circles or groups as needed, to work on particular aspects of the co-op such as marketing, finance or strategic planning. These circles report back to the whole coop.

5.6 Mostly, Calverts makes decisions by consensus or consent. Sometimes, we need to record a formal vote. All workers, whether they are Members or not, can have their say; but only Members have a vote.

6 Your Employment Agreement

6.1 Within one month of starting at Calverts, you’ll receive this Handbook, your individual job description and an Employment Agreement. The Employment Agreement contains information about your starting date, wages, holidays, entitlements to paid sick leave, and notice period. Together with the Handbook and your job description, it is part of your contract with Calverts, and you’ll be asked to sign it.

6.2 If you’re new at Calverts, you will receive a fixed-term contract to cover the period of your expected induction for Membership of the co-op – normally 9 months – plus a further month to make a decision about joining, or in lieu of notice. Part of your job requirement will be to work towards Membership, including receiving peer support, training and information to help you make an informed decision and be ready to take up the benefits and responsibilities of co-op Membership.

6.3 If you are invited to become a Member after successfully completing the induction period, and accept, you will receive a new, open-ended contract that is similar to the initial contract, but also includes your Member responsibilities and rights.

6.4 If you choose not to become a Member, or if you do not complete the induction period, your fixed term contract and employment with Calverts will end.

7 Hours of work and timekeeping

7.1 A standard full-time working week at Calverts is 35 hours. All workers are hourly paid. Pay rates are reviewed and agreed by co-op Members from time to time.

7.2 You will be paid monthly, and your pay is calculated on the total hours you worked during the previous pay month – taking into account any time worked under or over your contracted hours. Any variation from your contracted hours may be factored in to your pay calculation for the month, or carried over from one month to the next.

7.3 Your pay is calculated on the basis of the standard hourly pay rate, together with any premium or special rate for overtime or unsocial hours working. These rates are set and agreed by the Members from time to time. The current policy on overtime pay is as follows:

“Overtime will be paid at single time up to 37.5 hours per week, calculated over the monthly pay period. Over 37.5 hours, it will be paid at 1.5 time. All overtime must be requested or agreed in advance by a production coordinator. Workers are encouraged to use ‘time in lieu’ to even out their hours over the pay period, to avoid overtime.” (Policy agreed 23rd January 2018).

7.4 Basic policy on working hours and pay are the same for all workers, but actual working days and hours for each job role, team or employee vary. This allows the co-op to maximise efficiency, while taking account of the individual needs of workers and responding flexibly to individual requests.

7.5 To start with, your hours and working pattern are set out in your employment agreement. After six months, you have the right to request to vary them. Any variation or change in your contracted hours or working pattern must be negotiated with your colleagues, then agreed at a Members’ meeting. This does not affect your legal right to request to flexible working.

7.6 Except in cases of health or family emergency, or factors beyond your control, you are contracted to carry out all the duties set out in your job description, according to your agreed hours and working pattern. This includes complying with any reasonable work or support request from a colleague, whether or not it is included in your job description.

7.7 You are required to maintain and submit an accurate daily and weekly record of your working hours and breaks, using both:

i) the premises signing-in book, which also serves as a building security and safety log. You must sign in when you enter the building, and record the time when you leave.

ii) any app-based or other system as may be agreed from time to time. You can use this to report hours worked both on and off Calverts premises. This submission, checked against your ‘on premises’ hours as reported in the signing-in book, is used to calculate your paid hours and holiday entitlement.

8 Our environment, and working safely

8.1 Calverts has a duty to ensure that its employees have a safe working environment. It is the responsibility of all workers to be familiar with the current policy and to comply with its provisions. New employees will receive appropriate training and information. Our Health and Safety policy is available at [internal link].

8.2 In particular, compliance with safe working practices around machinery such as printing presses and guillotines is vital. For instance, no employee should operate printing or finishing machinery when they are alone on Calverts premises. Members should be prepared to comply with any reasonable request to provide safety cover.

8.3 Calverts is one of the UK’s leading ‘green’ design and print agencies. We have an environmental management system, which we run under the ISO14001 standard. You will be familiarised with the policy and system and what it means for your work. Complying with the system requirements is an important requirement of working at Calverts.

9 Time off

9.1 Holiday leave: your starting holiday entitlement is equivalent to 6.6 weeks per year, pro rata, including bank holidays and the period when Calverts closes between Christmas and New Year. This rises by one day per year for Members after their second full year of Membership, rising to a maximum 7.60 weeks.

Holiday or other leave of up to one day, including time off in lieu, must be agreed with the production co-ordinator in consultation with other people in your work team. All other leave must be agreed by a check-in meeting.

9.2 Family leave: employees are entitled to time off for urgent family reasons, and to parental leave in accordance with the statutory scheme for the time being in force. This is unpaid.

9.3 Compassionate leave: Members of the co-op may request up to one week’s compassionate leave per working year pro rata. An example of grounds for requesting compassionate leave is close family bereavement. Any such request must be agreed by the coop. Compassionate leave may be taken as additional unpaid leave, and any such request will be considered sympathetically. Exceptionally, the co-op may agree to treat compassionate leave as additional paid leave, but this is at the Members’ discretion and is not a right.

9.4 Extended and sabbatical leave: A Member of the co-op who has been a Member for more than three years may request unpaid leave for a period of up to one year. Such a request will be considered sympathetically by the coop, but can only be granted on a case-by-case basis, and is not a right.

9.5 Public duties: Employees are entitled to time off for public duties such as jury service, in accordance with the statutory scheme for the time being in force.

9.6 Maternity leave and pay: you are entitled by law to take time off to have a baby and to be paid, provided that you have given the correct notice. Please ask the Personnel Officer for details, or read:

Above and beyond your statutory rights, a full-time employee who is absent from work due to pregnancy is entitled to full pay for the first 16 weeks of maternity leave, including your statutory entitlement.

9.7 Paternity, maternity support or shared parental leave: your rights to take paternity, maternity support, adoption or shared leave is provided for by law. Please ask the Personnel Officer for details, or read:

9.8 Health Care: After completing 3 months service, employees are entitled to six preventative visits (pro rata) in total to doctors/dentists/opticians/family planning clinics etc. per year, in paid working time.

10 Other benefits

10.1 Pension: Calverts uses the Peoples Pension scheme to automatically enrol employees, as required by law. Please ask the Personnel Officer for details about how this affects to you.

10.2 Eye Tests: Any Member working on a screen or whose job involves close scrutiny work is entitled to an eye and sight test once a year, paid for by the Co-op, as well as £35 towards the cost of their prescription.

10.3 Child Care Vouchers: Child Care Vouchers to cover childcare costs are available. This is a salary sacrifice scheme, the voucher value being deducted from your gross salary. Please ask your Personnel Officer for details.

10.4 Season Ticket Loan: A season ticket loan to pay for travel costs to work is available, within Transport for London Zones 1-6. All loans are repayable on termination of employment. Please ask the Personnel Officer for details.

10.5 Training and development: In line with the 5th co-op principle of Education and Information, Calverts encourages Members to develop and broaden their skills and capacities through on- and off-the job training, as well as deepen their practical understanding of the cooperative way of working.

Employees who are working towards Membership will be given information to help them understand the way the co-op works, including understanding our financial management and co-op culture.

The co-op will also consider sympathetically any request from a Member for support, in the form of subsidised training costs or flexible working arrangements, to enable them to develop skills and aptitudes that are not directly related to their job at Calverts.

11 Disciplinary procedure

11.1 If a problem is perceived to arise with the performance or behaviour of a Member, and it cannot be resolved through honest and open communication between colleagues, it should be referred to the Personnel Officer or an alternate, uninvolved Member if the Personnel Officer is the subject of the referral. The Personnel Officer, or an alternate Member agreed by the Personnel Officer, may:

i) Make a preliminary investigation.

ii) Convene an investigatory meeting with the Member who is the subject of the issue, in the presence of a Note Taker. The Member who is the subject of the issue will not be entitled to be accompanied at such a meeting.

iii) Convene a disciplinary panel of three co-op Members. The Panel will be appointed by the Personnel Officer, or an alternative Member, from the full list of Members – Members being required when requested to serve in this capacity, unless they are personally involved in the issue under investigation. Where possible, Panel members will be drawn from different work teams, and be appointed in rotation. The Disciplinary Panel will be delegated full authority to carry the disciplinary procedure through to a resolution, including implementing and escalating any necessary measures that are fair and proportionate, in line with law and best employment practice. The Panel will be authorised to seek such professional advice as they may need to fulfil its role. The Personnel Officer, or alternate Member, will attend any disciplinary meetings as an advisor and note taker.

iv) A minimum of one week’s notice of a Disciplinary hearing will be given to the employee or employees concerned. A pro forma complaint sheet will be prepared and presented to the employee. The Panel will decide and notify the employee in writing of any improvement that may be required, and on what timescale. This will constitute a first warning, and it will remain in force for 6 months, regardless of the agreed timescale for improvement.

v) The Panel, assisted by the Personnel Officer or an alternate Member, will monitor and record the employee’s performance during the agreed period.

vi) If there is insufficient improvement within the required period, or if the conduct that led to the hearing is repeated within 6 months, a further meeting will be called with the personnel officer in attendance, and procedure followed as above. This constitutes a second warning, and it will remain active for 12 months, regardless of the agreed timescale for improvement.

vii) If there is insufficient improvement within the required period, or if the conduct that led to the hearing is repeated within 12 months, the Panel may issue the employee with a written dismissal notice.

viii) Within 7 days of receiving either a formal warning or a dismissal notice, an employee who is the subject of the warning or notice may appeal against the Panel’s decision. The appeal will be heard as soon as possible by a full meeting of Members, not to include the members of the Disciplinary Panel that issued the warning or notice. The employee may choose to attend, or not attend, the appeal in person. In the case of a dismissal notice, the employee will be suspended on full pay until the appeal has been granted or refused. If the employee does not appeal within 7 days, dismissal will take effect immediately.

ix) An employee who is required to attend a disciplinary or appeal hearing has the right to be accompanied and advised by a person of their choice.

x) In a case of serious misconduct, the above warnings and timescale will not apply. Any Member who believes an employee to be guilty of serious misconduct may request that employee to immediately surrender their access to Calverts premises and accept gardening leave, pending investigation. Examples of serious misconduct may include:

• intoxication due to drink or drugs
• fighting or other physical abuse
• theft
• dishonesty
• sabotage
• serious breaches of health and safety rules
• offensive behaviour such as discrimination, harassment, bullying or abuse
• unreasonable refusal to work or to comply with a request from a colleague
• accepting or offering bribes
• misusing co-op information or setting up a competing business
• repeated failure to meet the obligations of Membership
• deliberately damaging Calverts reputation and good standing

12 Grievance procedure

12.1 A grievance complaint may be initiated by any employee or group of employees, concerning another employee or group of employees. Initially, any such complaint should be addressed to the Personnel Officer or to an alternate Member if the Personnel Officer is the subject of or closely involved with the grievance.

a) If the Personnel officer or alternate believes that the grievance needs further investigation, an investigatory meeting involving all parties will be held as per 11 (ii) above.

b) If the grievance cannot be resolved this way, a Panel of three Members will be convened to consider the case as per 11 (iii) above. The Personnel Officer or alternate Member may involve an external mediator, and each party has the right to a representative or advisor of their choice.

c) If the grievance is upheld, the Panel will direct a remedy and timescale, and monitor further. If the grievance is still not resolved, the Panel may initiate disciplinary action.

13 Loss of Membership

13.1 Taking an active part in the running of the co-op is a contractual obligation for Members. This includes attendance and participation in the governance and day-to-day management of the coop’s business, including from time to time taking on specific governance and management roles such as Treasurer, Secretary, Health and Safety Officer, Environmental Policy Manager, Personnel Officer, Chair or such other roles as the Members may create; and participating in working groups of Members. Members will receive such information and training as may be necessary to take up these roles.

13.2 A Member could be liable to lose their Membership, and be removed as a Director, if they fail to fulfil their obligations as a Member. This might include consistently failing to positively engage as respectful equals with colleagues, or pursuing individual or factional agendas that run counter to cooperative values and principles, or co-op policies.

a) A Member may be expelled by a resolution carried by the votes of 75% or more of the Members present and voting at a general meeting of the coop. The meeting must be called giving the Member sufficient notice and details of the complaint. Proxy votes are not permissible, as Members would need to hear the evidence before making a decision.

b) Not less than 28 days before the meeting the Member threatened with expulsion must be sent, in writing, a complaint of conduct detrimental to the interests of the coop. The complaint must contain full particulars of the misconduct. The Member must be invited to answer the complaint in writing within 14 days of him/her receiving it. The answer must be given to the personnel officer, who will distribute it to Members.

c) The Member must be invited to attend the meeting and must be allowed to take part even if the Member has not answered the complaint prior to the meeting. At the meeting the Members must consider the evidence in support of the complaint and such evidence as the Member may wish to place before them. If the Member’s evidence is only placed before them on the day of the meeting the other Members may decide to adjourn the meeting to another day not more than 10 working days after the day of the meeting. Should this occur, the Member who is the subject of the potential expulsion shall be suspended on half pay until the hearing is resumed.

d) If, after due notice the Member fails to attend without due cause the meeting may proceed in his or her absence.

e) A person who has been expelled from Membership shall not be readmitted except by a resolution carried by the votes of at least three quarters of the Members present and voting at a general meeting of which due notice has been given.

f) If the meeting fails to vote for expulsion, but it is felt that there is still a problem, a grievance complaint may be initiated by any Member.

Updated September 2023

Case study: Leading Lives

Who are we?

Leading Lives is the largest social care workers co-op in the UK. We are based in and around Suffolk.

What do we do?

We provide a range of support to adults with learning disabilities and autistic people in and around Suffolk, enabling them to lead the lives they choose.

Quick facts
Industry Health and Social Care
Turnover£10 million per annum
Who are the members?Employees
GovernanceElected directors
PayVariable pay
Legal formCo-operative Society

How do we operate?

As an employee-owned company, Leading Lives is a democratic organisation.

  • Eligible employees can become members, each member has one share, one share equals one vote.
  • At any one time around 90% of our eligible employees are shareholders.
  • All shareholders can vote on key issues relating to the delivery and development of the company at Annual General Meetings (AGM’s) or SGM (special general meetings when called.
  • The business is managed by a Board of Directors who are elected by the members to be their voice on bigger decisions. The Board can have up to 16 members including 2 ex-officios, 2 non-executive directors and 2 from our shareholder council.

Where did we come from?

Leading Lives spun out of Suffolk County Council in July 2012. We were formed without assets in the bank, without lots of equipment or resources, but what we had was a team of over 300 committed, well trained and experienced staff.

Why are we a co-op?

The decision for an employee-owned company was based on our realisation that the employees will always be our most valuable asset, with the real value of services to the customer being based on the expertise and commitment of the support staff. Through this structure, the commitment of valued staff can be recognised and connected to the needs of the business. Employee members within co-operatives can be the most loyal and enterprising individuals as they work within an organisation they own.

Lessons learned

For anyone just starting out on their co-op journey we would say that it’s helpful to have a positive attitude to learning, and to encourage employees to use any mistakes as opportunities to learn. This keeps us all open and moving forward rather than getting stuck in a blame drain! We’d also say to reach out to other Co-ops, we’ve learnt some brilliant things from other co-ops and it’s great to be part of such a collaborative movement.

Case study: Fruit Works Co-op

Who are we?

We help people in Bradford and Leeds grow more fruit easily.

What do we do?

We have a tree nusery where we grow fruit trees to sell. We manage an old orchard that produces lots of fruit for greengroces and juicing. We work with lots of schools and community groups to manage and use public orchards. We run training courses for people to learn to prune and propogate fruit trees and bushes. Lastly we prune trees for customers.

Quick facts
Industry Agriculture
Who are the members?Employees
PayEqual pay
Legal formCompany

How do we operate?

We have regular business meetings where all the workers make decisions.

Where did we come from?

The two founders met apple juicing after lockdown and started a small community orchard planting service. We took over the shell of a co-op legal structure. We’ve grown steadily and specialise in everything fruit related.

Why are we a co-op?

We believe in democratic control of businesses and workplaces. We are a social enterprise that wants the Bradford and Leeds areas to be more edible.

Lessons learned

We are stronger from holding hands with sister co-ops in Sheffield and Manchester.

Case study: Good Press

Who are we?

We are a bookshop, printing and bookmaking studio, and exhibitions and events space based in the centre of Glasgow.

What do we do?

We sell independently and self published books with a focus on visual arts, graphic design, sound and music, experimental writing and literature. We also have a print service specialising in risograph printing and short run book making.

Quick facts
Industry Arts & Entertainment
FoundedSeptember 2021
Who are the members?Employees
PayEqual pay
Legal formCompany

How do we operate?

All cooperative members are directors and we make collective decisions about how the business is run. Responsibilites are allocated to different members of the team such as bookbuying, accounts, printing, events management and stock management. We make decisions by consensus at monthly meetings.

Where did we come from?

Good Press was founded in 2011 as a bookshop, and ran by a shifting team of volunteers for ten years before forming as a cooperative. We began the bookshop as a place for independent and self publishing in the arts, with a focus on supporting the production and distribution. We maintain an open submission policy when it comes to stocking publications to try promote access to small publishing.

Why are we a co-op?

Although Good Press was run as an informal group and managed by a sole trader in its early years, decisions were always made among the collective, so it made sense to incorporate as a cooperative when we were able to do so and share ownership of the business among its workers.

Lessons learned

We should have incorporated many years earlier, as it was difficult to detangle the finances after having been managed as a sole trader for so long. It can be difficult, and is still an ongoing concern (!) to define what is a group responsibility and what is a responsibility for an individual member, so would advise spending time among coop members when starting out to get that nice and clear.

Case study: Autonomic

Who are we?

Autonomic is a hive mind of 11 people around the world turning gentle chaos into websites, infrastructure and design. We share 1 email inbox, we make decisions using consensus and we all get paid the same. Although we are registered and based in the UK, we have members across four continents.

What do we do?

We build technologies and infrastructure to empower users to make a positive impact on the world. All of our services reflect our commitment to our core values of sustainability, transparency and privacy. We use technologies from the best free and open source software projects available. Your data under your control.

Quick facts

Industry Digital, Media & Education
Who are the members?Self-employed
PayEqual pay
Legal formCo-operative Society

How do we operate?

All members have an equal share and say in decisions. We have three tiers decisions, with a Large Decision requiring full consensus.

We organise in circles which can make their own decisions. Circles feedback to other circles as required. We are pragmatically influenced by the latest advanced in liberatory cybernetics, sociocracy and practices of care.

Where did we come from?

The idea for Autonomic were discussed back in 2017 at the Chaos Communications Congress. We came from a loose nit community of fellow travellers both online (primarily Fediverse and Secure ScuttleButt) and in person (IWW union, co-op scene).

We were mostly alienated workers from either the tech or hospitality sectors sick of exploitation and burn out looking for a better way.

Why are we a co-op?

We treat each other with a level of respect and kindness that many of us have not experienced at work before.

We’re also really proud of our welfare fund which provides money to members (no questions asked) when they need it most.

Lessons learned

Finance admin and basic business skills are essential.

Never compromise your principles. If you stay strong you may have less but if you do compromise, you’ll ultimately have nothing.

Case study: Tyddyn Teg Cyf workers co-op

Who are we?

We are a live-work cooperative in Gwynedd, North Wales, working to establish a viable and sustainable agroecology model for local vegetable production.

What do we do?

We operate a veg box scheme, farm shop, bakery and wholesale supply to local shops and caterers. We also provide a training garden for a local secondary school and run a popular traineeship program. We have a reputation for quality, value, being friendly and collaborative.

Quick facts
Industry Agriculture
Who are the members?Employees
PayEqual pay
Legal formCo-operative Society

How do we operate?

All worker members are directors. Decisions are made by consensus using sociocratic decision making. Working groups have delegated decision making powers and are accountable to the Board. All employees are members and there are 14 members currently.

Where did we come from?

With initial director loan funding, the co-op took on the management of the farm in 2015. Once it was more established Tyddyn Teg purchased the farm in 2021, after raising funds through issuing loan notes. In 2023 the co-op launched a share offer to fund investment and to start repaying the loans. The first phase of the share offer has exceeded its target, with the second phase to be launched in spring 2024.

Tyddyn Teg brought together a motivated group of people with backgrounds in farming, community development, agricultural research, environmental management, retail and hospitality. The aim has been to bridge the disconnect between food, land and people, while developing a viable, sustainable and reproducible model for local food production.

Why are we a co-op?

Hierarchical management is very much the norm in fruit and vegetable production, frequently resulting in poor quality jobs, where the expertise and experience of workers is not valued. We prioritise worker wellbeing and the importance of everyone having agency and the opportunity to learn new skills. The result is a very high retention of staff, despite low incomes and frequently cold and wet working conditions.

Lessons learned

In our first year we elected someone to be the overall manager. This resulted in conflicts that were resolved as we moved to policy driven, sociaocratic management with a horizontal management structure. This made it possible to refine our shared vision and work as a structured organisation driven by strong process, rather than strong personalities.

Case study:

Who are we?

A federation of worker led co-ops. Our purpose is to motivate, educate and organise people to start, strengthen and grow great worker co-ops.

What do we do?

  • Create learning opportunities for members via emails, webinars, events and peer learning.
  • Collate the best resources, templates and policies relevant to worker co-ops
  • Help people start-up and grow worker co-ops
  • Host member meet-ups, establish regional and industry networks
  • Campaign for worker co-operation and build links globally and with other social movements

Quick facts
Industry Campaigning
Who are the members?Worker co-ops + Workers
PayEqual pay
Legal formCo-operative Society

How do we operate?

We are a multi-stakeholder Co-operatives Society made up of two types of members: Member Co-ops and Worker Members. We have a Board of Directors, but day-to-day management and delivery takes place through sociocratic structures. We have seven working groups delivering activities on behalf of the co-op made up of over 35 worker members.

Where did we come from?

Although the idea of a federation specifically for worker co-ops had been around for years. We were inspired to start at the May 2022 “Worker Co-op Weekend” and incorporated in October of that year. The Worker Co-operative Council of Co-operatives UK became our founding members and interim Board of Directors.

Why are we a co-op?

We believe in a world where everyone has access to rewarding, meaningful and sustainable work.
Made possible by an interconnected and highly inclusive worker cooperative movement.

Lessons learned

As an organisation, be mindful to not go at the speed of the slowest, or to race ahead with the fastest. Take enough people with you.

Further reading Limited Handbook

Case study: Calverts

Calverts logo

Who we are

Calverts North Star Press is a worker co-op in graphic design and commercial printing, based in Bethnal Green, east London.

Checking a proof at Calverts

What we do

Expert print designers creating high impact publications, visual identities and brands. We’re also London’s leading boutique print manufacturer, producing digital, offset litho, giclée and risograph print in house. Working with a large network of binders, finishers, and paper engineers, our mission is transform creative ideas into perfect printed objects.

Calverts collaborated on the development of the first fully recycled graphic quality papers to be marketed in the UK, and use vegetable oil based inks. We work with clients to deliver print and design that’s socially and environmentally responsible, as well as beautiful and effective. We’re Forest Stewardship Council FSC® certified, and hold ISO14001 environmental certification.

How we operate

Quick facts
Industry Commercial printing and graphic design
Turnover£1.1 million
Who are the members?Employees
GovernanceSociocratic democracy
PayEqual hourly pay
Legal formCo-op Society

Calverts employees own and control the enterprise in common, putting into action the cooperative values of equity, solidarity, democracy, self-help, self-responsibility and equality. Like Suma and Unicorn Grocery, we are an equal pay co-op. All workers get the same hourly rate, from the cleaner to the finance officer. Our full time hours are 35 per week, with 7 weeks’ paid holiday a year and good policies on flexibility and unpaid time off, so people can work their jobs round their lives instead of the other way round.

It typically takes 10 months for a new Calverts worker to be inducted into membership, which is open to anyone contracted to work 14 hours a week or more. We run the co-op collectively, in other words all members are also directors. Individuals have a high degree of job autonomy and accountability within work teams. A monthly full meeting is used to review finances, as well as strategic, whole co-op and membership matters.

Further reading: Calverts workers handbook

How we started

Calverts came out of an industrial dispute and worker takeover of a bohemian arts press called IRAT services, in 1976. The workers engineered a confrontation with the private owner, while setting up the co-op to be ready to occupy IRAT’s workshop in Clerkenwell, central London. With no capital – only goodwill from customers and suppliers – the founders had no wages for the first six months. Key turning points were getting recognition and support from the printing industry’s craft union, the National Graphical Association, and borrowing £500 from ICOF to buy some of the former owner’s printing kit.

The founders called the new co-op ‘Calverts North Star Press’ after the North Star pub in Finchley Road, where the first co-op meetings were held, and Elizabeth and Giles Calvert, radical printers from the 1640s, whose workshop was close to Calverts first premises.

Through periods of growth and glory, as well as moments of crisis and reorganisation, Calverts has transformed itself from a basic skills community printshop into an industry leader and high end producer, through continuous upskilling and reinvesting surpluses in better tech.

Like many co-ops and collectives from the 1970s period, Calverts and its members were part of a growing ‘movement of movements’ that needed its own means of production to produce information and propaganda – the womens’, LGB, ecology and anti nuclear movements; Anti Apartheid and anti racism; and above all a revitalised workers’ movement, which was rediscovering worker co-ops.

What we learned

Solidarity will get you through times of no money, better than money will get you through times of no solidarity.

Skill sharing and flexible working across teams is the key to resilience, high productivity and individual worker development. Calverts has never made a forced redundancy.

How you start out is very likely how you’ll go on. For instance, it’s much easier to begin as a collective, flat equal pay co-op and stay that way, than it is to start unequal and try to equalise later.

Being a worker co-op is a powerful selling point, if you know how to project it smartly and authentically.

Worker co-ops aren’t walled gardens of peace and equality, but to be more efficient than private businesses, dispense with disciplinary management and provide truly decent jobs, we have to be continually breaking down divisions of labour, status and reward rooted in gendered, racialised and other codes such as working class v middle class, intellectual v manual, college v school educated, technicians v administrators.

For a mainly B2B trading enterprise, word of mouth marketing has proved by far the most cost effective way to get more and better business – but being a good word-of-mouth marketer takes skill and discipline.

Customers can be your friends, but trade suppliers are family.

Worker cooperation points towards the possibility of a better world, but we’re still capitalist enterprises. Even without internal bosses or outside owners, we give a big chunk of our labour value to landlords, financiers and trade creditors, and still trade for profit. One day, when we can produce everything in response to peoples’ real needs, in full association and under community direction, we might be able to say we’ve gone beyond capitalism.

Case study: Agile Collective

Who are we?

We are a worker-owned agency that designs, builds and supports websites for purpose-driven organisations. We believe in making things better together. We’re based in the UK, Italy and Sweden.

We’re agile, reliable and responsive. We love open source software, and we’re a worker co-op because we believe that’s a fairer way to do business. We take our work seriously and deliver great results, but we know how to have fun, too.

What do we do?

We are a tight and dedicated team of digital strategists, designers, developers and project managers. We work with organisations that value environmental sustainability, social responsibility, equality and human rights and share our vision of a better world for everyone. We are a company with a conscience.

Every project is different, but the building blocks remain the same: with a shared understanding of your strategic objectives and user needs, together, we can create something special.

Quick facts
Industry Digital, Media and Communication
Turnover£1 million
Who are the members?Employees
PayVariable pay
Legal formCompany

How do we operate?

The workforce at Agile Collective consists of employees, members and directors, with individuals who work with us on a less formal basis classed as freelancers or contractors.


An employee is anyone with an employment contract at Agile Collective. All members and directors are employees of Agile Collective, but not all employees are members or directors.


As a worker co-op, members ultimately own and control Agile Collective. We hope that all employees will want to become members.


Directors are legally responsible for the company, but otherwise there is no discernible distinction between director members and non-director members. Only members can become directors.

Freelancers and contractors

We also work with a number of freelancers or contractors from time to time. Freelancers and contractors are not employees and cannot be members or directors.

Our governance

We use principles and practices of Sociocracy to manage the company on a day-to-day basis.

This consists of two main elements:

  • Circles (similar to departments) with a defined remit and powers
  • Decision-making within circles based on consent rather than consensus

Circle Structure

Our current circle structure is flat, with all circles reporting directly to the General Circle, which in turn reports to the Members Circle.

When we started to use Sociocratic principles we found that the quality of our work and relationships improved dramatically.

You can find resources on Sociocracy on our website.

Where did we come from?

Like all the best projects we were born out of a lively pub discussion amongst kindred spirits. Four of our founders (Finn, Luke, Jed and Aaron) had a cooperative web agency they wanted to expand. Richard was a freelance project manager, designer and developer looking to find additional developers to work with. Hedley, who came up with our name, had worked with Richard on some Drupal-based projects and wanted to find more Drupal enthusiasts to work with.

They immediately hit it off over beers and open source conversation at the Oxford Geek Night in the Jericho Tavern. It was techy, designery, problem-solving love at first sight. Within three weeks, Agile Collective was a registered cooperative with six worker members.

We all brought our existing clients with us, including many clients in the environmental sector, such as Eden Project, and several colleges within the University of Oxford, and so were able to hit the ground running. Since then, we’ve never looked back (apart from at our project retrospectives).

Why are we a co-op?

  • We love the worker-cooperative model.
  • It made total sense to us when we set up.
  • Those who do the work own the business. It’s a simple idea but a very powerful one.

Working as a co-op, we can live the change that we want to see in society. We’re a democracy and we embody openness.

These core values come through in our work, the way we work, and the organisations we work with. We’re very fortunate to have worked with some incredible ones over the years, helping them to improve their digital presence and achieve their missions.

We’ve built sites for and worked with Oxfam International, UNICEF, WHO, Action Aid International, Freedom for Torture, War on Want, Co-operatives UK, the Fundraising Regulator, LocalGov Drupal, Ethical Consumer magazine, British Association of Social Workers, Child Poverty Action Group, councils from Croydon to Cumbria, and many more.

The model also means that we can more easily adapt to suit the broader economic and social environment.

For example, we are doing more work around accessibility and usability at the moment because our members have demonstrated there is a need for this that aligns with our mission. The cost of living crisis has meant that clients’ budgets are tighter but at the same time they want to ensure that every penny is creating value for their users; as such we are being more and more for consultancy in the areas we are experts in. We’ve also been more easily able to adapt to UX principles and design thinking and generally keep on top of the changes in our industry in an agile way (pardon the pun).

Lessons learned

One of the most important things we’ve learnt is to stick with your principles and don’t be afraid to shout about them.

In our early days, we were asking questions about the ethics of who we worked with but our processes weren’t well defined and we took on some work for MTV Russia. We admitted it was a bit of a stretch but felt that MTV had had an important role in music and popular culture in the 1980s and we went ahead. It quickly became clear it wasn’t the right client for us. The developers struggled and found it quite stressful.

For example, seeing so many adverts pop up all the time wasn’t what got us (or gets us) going. Since then, we’ve been much more strict about the ethics of those we work with.

We’ve also learnt that talking to clients (and potential clients) about who we do and don’t work with should be a central part of fulfilling our mission. Recently we met a potential client that had links to big pharmaceutical companies. We explained to them that this might be an issue for us. By being a cooperative we don’t have such a pressure to make a profit that is taken out of the company; this gives us more autonomy, and so influence than other startups. Supplier pressure, just like consumer pressure, can be an important tool

Someone once asked us “If I’m BP and I come along with a huge project and I want you to do it, you’d turn me down?!”

Without any hesitation we told them “yes”. The disbelief that they registered shows that we have a long way to go to show just how liberating and powerful being a worker coop can be.

Further reading