Resource type: Guides

Quick guide: setting up a new worker co-op

What do you need to consider first, if you’re thinking of setting up a new worker co-op? Here’s a really short introduction.

Find the right people

Since the worker co-op system is not well known – at least in the UK – it’s important to test your founding group’s expectations, particularly if you come from a background in the private, voluntary or state sector. For instance how would you feel about working in a business where everyone has equal rights and voice? Would you be happy with sharing ownership and control? What do you feel about people having equal wages and in-work benefits?

Be realistic about your capacity – and keep track

In the start-up process, it’s useful to set yourself a timeline, keep a register of decisions, and track how many hours you’re spending on it all. The members of your founding group will have different limits on how much unpaid work they can do, even if you plan to compensate yourselves through ‘sweat equity’ when the co-op can afford it.

Test the concept

Before writing a long business plan, test your basic business idea. What would be your products and/or services? Is there an effective market? In other words, while you may believe there is a need for it, will people pay for it? If so, who are they and how much? Does it stack up? At this stage it’s important to pitch your idea to potential customers, suppliers and critical friends.

Define the membership model

In a worker co-op, the primary beneficiaries are the workers. So how do your workers become members? What does membership mean in practical terms, and how exactly will the members benefit from the activity of the co-op? Worker control and worker benefit should not be at the expense of your local community, wider social causes, or environmental action. Most worker-led businesses are also responding to wider social needs and aspirations.

Work out how you will make decisions

Small co-ops often have a flat management structure, but there’s a range of democratic models and tools you can use, based on the changing needs of the business and its members. While ‘collective management’ might be right for a small organisation, you may decide to adopt elements of sociocracy or even ‘democratic hierarchy’ as you grow. Check out some of the different models worker co-ops use, in our Worker Co-op Code.

What will you do with your surplus?

You’ll also need to decide if you constitute yourself as ‘for-profit’ or ‘not-for-profit’. In other words, can the workers receive an annual bonus? Or will it all be reinvested back into the business? How much – if any – money will be set aside to support external causes?

Pick a legal structure 

If you decide to legally incorporate your co-op in the UK, you can use one (or more) of several legal structures. You can incorporate as a Co-op Society – the most traditional form; a Company Limited by Guarantee or Shares – the most common; or even a Partnership. The choice of legal form will depend on your financial and trading model.

You will also need to create your governing document. This is a constitution for an unincorporated body, ‘articles of association’ for a company, ‘rules’ for a Society, or ‘agreement’ for a partnership. Then you’ll need to create ‘secondary rules’ and policies that set out in detail how your high level governing principles are going to be applied in practice.

Fundraising & finance

If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need some level of start-up money to pay for premises, wages, supplies, or other business costs while you’re waiting for sales revenue. In some cases, your founding group may be able capitalise the business through member shares or loans from their own savings, or even be able to crowdfund. But quite likely you’ll need your business plan to convince a bank, loan provider or grant-giver to support these early costs. 

Write the plan

Start by looking at the business plans of organisations you like. Whatever your sector, you’ll find inspiring blueprints from others, which you can adapt. A business plan is your ‘manifesto’ – to yourselves, your community and to potential partners and investors. The plan should set out the co-op’s goals, its composition and structure, your products, services and marketing strategy; ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’; short and longer-term projections for your income and expenditure. You’ll also set out your staffing and recruitment model, identify your potential supply chain, and outline your initial financial needs.

This short guide is adapted from a piece we originally wrote in collaboration with our member Stir to Action, which is published in their ABCs of the New Economy. Let us know if you think it could be improved.

workers.coop handbook

This document is a reference guide for how workers.coop Limited organises itself. This document like this organisation is a democratic work in progress. If you spot something that can be improve let us know.

Quick links

Table of Contents

Who we are

workers.coop is a new kind of member-driven organisation that unites worker co-ops, individual workers and supporters. We mobilise, educate and organise with the aim of spreading worker cooperation and strengthening the worker cooperative movement.

Vision & Purpose

(taken from our incorporation document)

The purpose of the Cooperative is to carry out its function as a cooperative and to abide by the Cooperative Values and Principles, as defined and modified by the International Cooperative Alliance from time to time, in order to build a world where:
 a) everyone has access to rewarding, meaningful and sustainable work;
 b) the worker-controlled enterprise system is well known, easy to grasp, and a viable option for workers;
 c) capital serves labour, rather than dominating or exploiting labour;
 d) people retain the fruits of their work, and wealth is distributed equitably and fairly;
 e) working relationships are characterised by true equality and mutual accountability;
 f) people are able to collectively take control of their work, creating opportunities for  skills and personal development, and for a better life balance; and
 g) the production of goods and services is integrated with democratic community development, and respects ecological limits. 

OBJECTS
The objects of the Cooperative shall be to carry on business as a cooperative and to carry on any other trade, business or service and in particular but without limitation to:
a) act as a sectoral federation to unite, defend and advance the shared interest of worker cooperatives and other worker-led or worker-owned enterprises;
b) be the recognised voice and network for worker cooperation in the UK;
c) provide access to specialist development advice, cooperative support and other shared services for worker cooperatives;
d) strengthen worker cooperative culture by mobilising cooperators and supporters of the worker cooperative system through industrial networks, knowledge sharing and social movement alliances;
e) participate in international workers’ and cooperative networks, and actively
 promote worker internationalism; and
f) Make the system of worker control and collective ownership accessible and relevant to new groups and generations of workers, refining our offer and organising models in the process.

The new federation’s vision and identity will be set by members, but we expect it to embrace the basic ideas set out in the CICOPA Declaration on Worker Co-operatives, and endorsed by the ICA

Principles

Building on the ICA and CICOPA declarations, we expect our members to shape and agree the guiding principles and practical governance of the organisation. This will inform our strategic priorities, structure, and decision making process. The following points offer a sense of what these might include, and suggest the sort of organisation we could become:

  • Movement building
    Organising methods are at the heart of everything we do. Wherever possible we use or build the assets of worker co-ops and cooperators in our network. Using their skills and capabilities; developing new capabilities – and worker co-ops – where they don’t; working with partners and allies where we need to rely on external resources.
  • Inclusive
    Proactively seek out, involve, and learn from diverse groups in society. Create a genuinely egalitarian culture and space for people to reach their potential and flourish.
  • Lean and decentralised 
    Keep overheads and bureaucracy to a minimum. The services we provide need to be self-organising, scalable and financially sustainable. Decision-making to be both highly delegated and accountable. Day-to-day activity to be designed as far as possible by those who carry out the work. 
  • Fair and equitable 
    An expectation that everyone contributes, but everyone should also benefit, at least in proportion to their contribution. 
  • Reward and recognition
    A culture of celebrating and rewarding those who make a positive impact for our movement, being mindful not to focus on those who shout the loudest or have the most free time.
  • ‘Good enough for now, safe enough to try’
     
    A bias towards action over deliberation. Getting full buy-in from all members is desirable, but not at the expense of moving forward, even if that means taking calculated, properly-understood risks.
  • Making alliances and partnerships Orienting towards, and working with, other organisations groups and currents that share our goal of social emancipation through democratic ownership and control of economic activity.

Governance

We are incorporated as a Co-operatives Society with the FCA.The rules are available here. We have clauses for not-for-profit, common ownership and one-member-one-vote. workers.coop is a democratic, member-led organisation with two types of member:

  • Worker co-op enterprises,
  • Worker members – who contribute their labour through one of our working groups.

There is also a  wider circle of supporters.

We are incorporated by law as a Co-operative Society. Our members make the highest level decisions – such as changes to our Rules – in General Meetings. They elect a board, which is the legally responsible group. Traditional one-member-one vote democracy is used to govern these aspects.

The board looks after ‘the mission’, and delegates most of its powers to groups of volunteer and paid workers. These Working Groups decide their own composition, manage their own budgets and determine their own work, within agreed strategy and policies. On this operational side, we use the principles of sociocratic democracy, featuring consent-based decision making, feedback and formal links between the different

Governance Diagram

Movement Group – Every individual who is part or a worker co-op member, worker member or supporter. The largest Group and able to take part in other Groups whether formally part of the governance structure, or created as member interest groups or peer networks through our forum.

General Group (AGM) – A Group of all “voting members” able to vote on the big decisions, set high level strategy, policy, funding etc and once a year operates as the AGM.

Co-ordination Group – A place for all the other groups to share information and co-ordinate so we know know what each individual group is doing.

Board – Seven Directors democratically elected by the General Group against a role profile. These roles to be on three year terms. The Board can also co-opt one more place to fill a skills gap. This group will act as the Directors, but with the specific function to focus on overall strategy/direction.

Working Groups – These Groups are agreed by the Coordination Group, and resourced from the General group. The primary focus is to feed into or deliver specific activities of the federation.

Member interest groups/Peer Networks – These groups are more informal to help organise and support people with similar interests or roles. The goal is to help members connect, learn and co-ordinate with each other. Most will be self-organising but supported through the infrastructure of the federation.

Working Groups

Using Sociocracy for inspiration we are delivering work through self-organising teams called groups. Each group will have a defined purpose, domain (what a group has authority over) and membership with defined roles. Guidance on how to start and run groups can be found here. Below are a list of active groups.

Board

Notes and Actions

Purpose: To be accountable to, and make decisions in the interest of members. To oversee the strategic direction, good governance and financial sustainability of this federation. To support and effectively hold to account for delivery all working groups and worker members.

Domain

  • Setting and overseeing the execution of a strategic plan
  • Ensuring financial responsibility and long term sustainability
  • Managing risks and ensuring compliance with the law
  • Cultivating and reflecting our members co-operative values
  • Ensuring an active, democratic membership and good governance
  • Maintaining connections with external organisations, particularly within the UK and global co-op movement.

Members: Currently un-elected as founding Board, used to be Co-operatives UK’s Worker Co-op Council Cath Muller (Footprint workers co-ops), Ross Hodgson (Suma), Stephen Gill (VME), Debbie Clarke (Unicorn Grocery), Sion Whellens (Calverts), Leigh Galletly (Green City), John Atherton (Exec Director)

Point of Contact: John Atherton

Coordination Group

Notes and Actions

Purpose: To act as a central point of coordination for the day-to-day activities of the working groups of the Federation.

Domains:

  • Maintaining information flow to proactively ensure that groups have the information that they need to enable them to self-manage effectively
  • Maintain a good oversight of the overall day-to-day function of the groups within the federation
  • Identifying gaps and overlaps between working group domains
  • Deciding who decides for anything that falls between group domains and/or where we have conflict over whose domain it is in
  • Supporting and advising groups through any decision-making issues where they’re struggling to make progress (this can often relate to domain clarity)
  • Acting as a central forum for feedback to proactively identify and respond to issues and support needs
  • Supporting working groups to deliver in line with the strategic plans set by the Board

Members: Kiri Langmead, Sion Whellens, Matt Nicholson, John Atherton, John Bevan, Liam, Sam Nordland

Point of Contact: John Atherton

Digital Infrastructure Group

Notes and Actions

Purpose: To design, build and maintain the digital infrastructure needed to operate a lean, decentralised, mass membership organisation.

Domains:

  • Web and email server hosting and maintenance
  • Nextcloud hosting and SSO
  • CiviCRM hosting, and development
  • Oversight of all digital infrastructure development and decision making

Members: Chris (Webarch), Liam (Media Blaze), Graham Mitchell (GM3). Dan (Unicorn)

Point of Contact: Chris Croome

Communications Group

Notes and actions

Purpose:

To shape and deliver both strategic and operational communications on behalf of workers.coop. To ensure we have a compelling and consistent narrative and brand. To promote both our new federation but also play a leading role in how we talk about worker co-operation and any future campaigns

Domain:

  • Brand, name, style guide and imagery.
  • Key messages and copy writing for website and other core comms
  • Support for and oversight of all communications channels, including mass emails and social media

Members: Sion (Calverts), Louise (Media Coop), Debbie (Unicorn), Ben and Row (Creative Co-op), John Atherton, Sam

Point of Contact: Sion Whellens

Member Learning group

Notes and actions

Purpose: To educate people to start, strengthen and grow great worker co-ops.

Domains: 

  • Design and oversee a range of learning opportunities for workers and supporters within our membership, increasing their skill and capabilities to meet the needs of their co-ops.
  • Support the mobilisation group with the creation of induction resources to on-board new members and supporters of workers.coop
  • Design and oversee our “Co-op clinic” or other services to connect members with problems to solutions or supporters who can help.
  • Make starting or converting to a worker co-op, well known, easy to grasp, and a viable option.

Members: John Atherton, Mark Simmonds, Nathan Brown, John Bevan, Doug Belshaw, Caleb Elliott,

Mobilising Group

Notes and Actions

Purpose: To lead on the mobilisation of our workers.coop members and other supporters so that we have a motivated, capable and coordinated group of people able to deliver the work of the federation. This is to support both the internal running of the organisation and also galvanising a mass of people to carry out campaigning actions, or participate in our peer learning and events programmes.

Domains:

  • Design, implement and oversee the infrastructure, systems and processes needed to recruit, onboard and organise people to carry out the actions within the federation strategy.
  • Create defined roles and actions people can carry out on behalf of the federation and then run campaigns to recruit and engage members and supporters to take part.
  • Create and run reward and recognition activities to celebrate successes and motivate people to act.

Members: Cath (Footprint), Louise (Media Coop), Caleb (Principle Six), Matt (York Collective), Matt wilson, Michael (Unicorn), John Atherton, Sam, Consulted: Alex bird,

Point of Contact: Sam Nordland

People, Policy and Culture Group

Notes and Actions

Purpose:  To oversee the internal systems, policies and processes within the federation, and to support the cultivation of a healthy, co-operative culture.

Domain:

  • Oversee and regularly review the policies of the federation, which remain the final responsibility of the Board .
  • Oversee the functioning, implementation and evolution of the internal governance of the federation.
  • Developing systems and processes to support a healthy, people-centered, co-operative culture within the federation
  • Developing systems and processes to support diversity, inclusion, equity, power sharing and justice within the federation

Members: Kiri Langmead (People Support Co-op), Leigh (Greencity) Olga (Leading Lives) Yuliy (Rad Co-op), John Atherton

Point of Contact: Kiri Langmead

Marketing and Branding

Style Guide

Name: workers.coop Limited
Write: workers.coop
Pronounced: workers dot co-op

Alternative names:
The Federation
Federation of Worker Coops

Tag lines (for now):
Liberating work
Motivate, educate, organise

Explainers

How are we funded?

workers.coop’s basic funding comes from the subscriptions of worker co- op enterprise members. The subscription amount for a co-op is 1/1,000th  (0.1%) of its total labour costs for the previous year, so that it reflects as much as possible the strength of the co-op. In 2023, it added up to about £40,000.

On top of the Member subscriptions, workers.coop raises money – either without strings, or tied to projects and work streams – from foundations, individual supporters and sponsors. For instance, DotCooperation sponsored our Autumn Assembly, and Civic Power are supporting us to grow our organising capacity.

It’s important for workers.coop to raise as much as we can from our members and supporters, so that we don’t become reliant on the type of external funding and partnerships that drag us away from our mission.

Policies

Can be found on Nextcloud: workers>General>Guide and Hanbbook>Policies

Active policy consultations: Can be found here

Give us a case study

We are building a bank of case studies of worker co-operatives to inspire more people to start or convert to a worker co-op. This is a quick guide on how to write a case study for us.

TLDR: Just fill in this form

Why a structured case study

We think providing a libary of structured case studies will make it easy both for individuals to write one if they have never done it before. But also following a set structure will make it easer for people reading them to compare and contrast between the different case studies.

How to write a case study for workers.coop

We created a form here to make it easy for both you to fill in the info but also for us to convert it into a resource. We’ve done an example case study on worker.coop, I’m sure you can do something better!

First the Quick facts

Before you submit make sure you have some basic info to hand these will appear in a quickfacts table

  • Name of co-op
  • Email contact – this will not be published but to check details and request a photo/image
  • Website
  • When was your co-op founded
  • Industry – there is a drop down list, just go with the closest match
  • Turnover – no need to be specific, the aim is to give people a sense of your size
  • Number or workers – include everyone you deem a worker, whether they are employees, self-employed of volunteers
  • Number of members
  • Who are your members – drop down list, just pick the closest match
  • Governance
    • Collective – All members are Directors
    • Elected Directors – Traditional Membership Electing a Board / Management Committee
    • Sociocracy – Although you may have a Board of Directors they are within a sociocratic structure
    • Other – please do explain!
  • Pay
    • Equal pay – All members on the same hourly rate
    • Variable pay – typical market based pay
    • It’s complicated – Variable pay but not typical market based pay
  • Legal form
    • Company
    • Co-operatives Society
    • Limited Liabillity Partnership

Tell us a story

The rest of the case study is set-out in paragraph form so give as much or as little detail as you want. You can always come back to this case study in the future and update it with us

  • Who are we? – Give us a quick intro into your co-op, where are you based
  • What do we do? – What products and services do you sell, why people should do business with you etc.
  • How do we operate? – Expand on the quick facts, do you have a Board, how are they elected, do you have managers, or how do you make decisions etc
  • Where did we come from? – What’s your origin or founding story, why did you start, how did you start.
  • Why are we a co-op? – Share something that makes you different, achievements or impacts you have made, why you are proud to be a co-op
  • Lessons learned – Share something you did badly that you have learnt from, or something you would do differently if doing again, or a top tip for someone just starting out on their journey

That’s it!

Just submit the form and we will be in touch.

Other Content:

Alongside the case study if you are willing to provide anything else just email us: solidarity@

  • Your logo
  • A photo of your shop/office/members
  • Do you have any guides, how-to, internal policies you’re willing to share?

Run your own Local Co-op Meetup

workers.coop co-host, encourage and support others to host Local Co-op Meetups in their town, city or region. This is in line with our commitment to promote worker co-operatives and run different types of events. So far there is the Glasgow Co-op Meetup, Edinburgh Co-op Meetup and Leeds Co-op Meetup, which are organised locally.

While aimed at worker co-operators, we have found that these meetups work brilliantly as open events to bring together different co-operative and community-based audiences, allowing mutual support and networking.

If you’re a worker co-op, employee-owened enterprise, large organisation or charity who wants to support democratic and worker-controlled business by co-hosting, organising or providing funding towards an event, get in touch. Particularly cooperators in Birmingham, Manchester and Suffolk, where meetups are in the pipeline!

Below we outline key elements from what has worked best in our members’ experience, some practical things to consider as well as suggested formats for running the event.

Key elements

Open

Local Co-op Meetups are aimed at worker co-operators and employee-owned enterprise members, but we have found them to be most successful when open to other types of co-operative such as housing, multi-stakeholder, consumer, society, CIC, etc. We’ve found this helps to ensure numbers of attendees, increases knowledge and experience in the room, strengthens local connections and increases opportunities and networking.

Knowledge pool

Running an open, free, public event and including all types of co-operatives has shown us that this often results in a wide level of knowledge and experience amongst participants, who are then able to answer questions. We have found those attending are able to direct, signpost, and advise those attending who are new to co-operatives or looking to start a co-op, without requiring paid staff or a facilitator.

One off or Recurring

Whether you run a one-off event or recurring event will depend on your circumstance. For recurring events, members have found that choosing a recurring consisent time aids attendence and enables drop-in. For example, the Glasgow co-op meetup takes place on the third Friday of every month, whilst the South Birmingham Co-op Meetup used to reccur every 3 months. Most meetups take place in the evening on a workday, so people can drop by after work.

Practical considerations

Event promotion

We can promote your Local Co-op Meetup on our Events listing on our website, just give us the details, and we can include it in our Newsletter that is sent to our mailing list.

Location

Where else to host a co-op meetup than in a local worker co-op cafe or event space? Other options might include approaching a large local housing co-operative, as the one in Edinburgh does, or hosting it in a cafe, community building or hall that has bookable room space. The more central location the easier it will be to get to on public transport, but this will entirely depend on your context and could rotate. This will also depend on your local group’s capacity for room hire, or whether you’d want to ask participants for a donation to put toward this.

Funding

It might be worth approaching local organisations in your area that you know might have some funding available for supporting co-operative activities! This could be spent on room hire, refreshments or food for the meetup, etc. We sadly can’t provide this ourselves due to our very limited resources in our first year. However, currently local groups are organising their local meetups without financial support that we know of, if you meet up in a cafe or bar for instance you can buy drinks there to use the space.

Worker Co-op Codes

If you’d like a stack of Worker Co-op Codes to have at the event, email <sion@principlesix.coop>, or download and print yourself.

Suggested formats

Worker cooperators have differed in how they have organised local meetups. This could be a loose, informal and conversational event, or one with an agenda or more structured format. We will upload suggested formats in due course, but briefly:

  • Informal

Attendees turn up, tend to be more milling around and speaking with whoever is there, conversation and networking is unstructured and played by ear.

  • Structured

Instead, the group might like to prepare and share an agenda ahead of time with a plan of what will be discussed during the meetup, with people sitting around a table. Alternatively, there might be no agenda as such but an organiser who has planned a schedule and contents, such as a go around and introductions from attendees, or conversation around a particular matter. This is how the South Birmingham co-op meetup was run, for instance.

For help to organise an event in your area email sam@workers.coop, or if you are in Scotland louise@mediaco-op.net.

Using our digital platforms

Welcome to this explainer on our digital platforms. This guide will tell you how to register for our member Single Sign-on making it easier to access all our different platforms. We will also explain what these platforms are and how we use them.

workers.coop aims to be transparent in what we do and how we do it, so all files are stored centrally in NextCloud and all members discussions take place on Discourse. Check out our Communications Policy for more information.

Single Sign On (SSO)

We believe in open source technologies and our SSO makes it easier to link all these different platforms together. So you only need to remember one password!

We recommend sticking with one email address across platforms. NB if you’re having any trouble, check which email you’re using!

Step 1: All new members are sent a special link to create an SSO account and this can be shared with all members of your co-op. If you cannot find this link please contact John or Sam and they will send it you.

Step 2: Click on the link, it will take you to: auth.workers.coop where you can fill in you details and once submitted you will receive an email which you must click on to confirm.

Step 3: When you click on the email button to confirm or whenever you log-in to auth.workers.coop you will see our “applications” we may add more of these in the future.

Step 4: All our platforms or “applications” have similar processes, if you do not already have accounts when you click on the icon’s you will be taken to that platforms home page.

forum.workers.coop (Discourse)

Click on the orange “sign-up” button usually in the top right, don’t create a new account, Login “with Members SSO.

www.workers.coop (website)

Click on the black “sign-in” button usually in the top right, don’t create a new account (you seeing a pattern). Click on the Login “with Open ID Connect”.

office.workers.coop (NextCloud)

Click on “Login with Members SSO”

What do we use all these platforms for?

The Forum (Discourse) 

is our online space. Some is accesible by anyone other bits are member only. Its where most of our communication and organising take place. So if you are not sure what is going on, log-in and check it out.

Looking at the left hand side you will see all the different categories:

  • Member discussion – This is where we ask for feedback, share member only content and working groups organise their work and make decisions between meetings.
  • News and annoucments – These are public facing annoucements, lots of events posted here
  • Jobs and P6 – A place check if you are looking to share job vacancies or trade with other worker co-ops.
  • Questions – Whether questions about workers.coop or questions about worekr coops post them here
  • Peer Networks – This is a members only space to learn, share and commiserate with people in similar roles or co-ops.
  • Messages and Personal Chat – For group and personal messaging
  • Groups – To access our different working groups, and if you don’t see all this content you may not have been set as a member, if so request access via the Member Group.

NextCloud

This is where we store all our shared files, its like Google Drive or Dropbox. All members can access certain files from the Group folder “member”. Some however are restricted to particular working groups and can only be accessible if you are a member of that group. See this guide for how to use Nextcloud.

  • The ‘Guides and Handbook’ folder contains our How Tos, Guides, Policies and Templates.
  • The ‘Logo and Visual ID’ folder contains logo artwork.
  • Meeting minutes and agendas can be found in the ‘Meetings’ folde, we are very open and transparent in our decision making.

If all this is a lot to take in or you get stuck, Sam is very happy to walk you through the process so book in a chat anytime book here.

Worker co-op code

worker code image

Overview

Dedicated to people around the world who are taking
control and ownership of their working lives.

The purpose of this code is to help people set up, maintain
and renew strong worker cooperative enterprises. It sets out
what workers should expect, and work together to achieve,
as members of a co-op.