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.