Worker co-ops closing down

I’ve never visited Sound Bites but we have been hosting their website for many years, I read today that they are closing. :frowning:

This is very sad - Co-op support should be a stream of work in the federation. I’m also quite sad as the warehouse cafe in birmingham’s closure is very immenent. I think perhaps in both cases action would have needed to be taken earlier. But perhaps a health audit of all members / all worker co-ops would be a good way to understand needs of worker co-ops.

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That is sad :frowning:
Our member learning group is looking at a peopled advice line. The first stage of the pilot it to focus on people who haven’t yet set-up a co-op and just want to have a conversation about it/be encouraged.

But the longer term plan is for it to be a way for anyone with a question/problem with their co-op to arrange a conversation with one ofour supporters and either get help direct or be signposted to help.

But we have not spun that part of the project up yet. Would be interestign to know what the issues are, and what they think would have made a difference.

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In addition to Sound Bites and the Warehouse Cafe, I know that the London Bike Kitchen workers co-op and Cafe Kino are both also on the fence of closure or struggling. It seems that, especially for established co-ops, it’s reasonable for the fed now to be thinking along these lines. Would it maybe fall into realm of Member Learning, or Research working group? It sucks when co-ops close as we loose specialised co-operative skills, expertise and labour, which are drained from worker owned enterprises and injected into capitalist businesses when people get new jobs.

From my experience of it, when your co-op is struggling, it’s the hardest time to find energy and momentum to reach out to ask for help to the wider coop movement. How can we reach in, if we want to think about how to retain and use these skills or at least facilitate that process. I wonder if there is any capacity or interest for surveying co-ops going through the process of closure to ask those questions John asked. Turning the loss into a positive by capturing feedback that we can be informed by and learn from, helping to ensure offer the right sorts of things…

On the audit idea, could we do some kind of audit or needs check to assess sector wide needs while members join through an automated form that is filled in through the joining process (for insight purposes), or are joining co-ops going to be the healthiest anyway. It would feel thorough and investing/caring in each new member, a personalised approach whilst making clear the info is for insight only, we can’t act on it beyond it informing our strategy/priorities or what type of support we can build in. So far the Inductions are beginning to catch co-op wants but it’s rushed and oriented towards explaining We are uniquely placed to be able to survey this as members join, without much effort. Maybe this is being captured by the Member Needs Survey…

There’s also the question of ‘what happens next’ to workers previously in worker co-ops. I was in Bristol the other weekend talking to Essential shop staff about (who are members!l) and a worker said ‘I’ve always wondered what happens to people when they leave a worker co-op, where do they go next? What do they do?’ @Matt wilson has talked a lot about the federation creating a movement that a wider audience can identify with and attach to beyond being a member and I hope this is something the fed achieves. :slight_smile:


Just to add to this Wave Design is also closing :frowning:

They ceased trading on 25th May 2023 but at least it looks like some of their clients will have been migrated to GreenNet (who are in effect a workers co-op but legally a charity).

Should I update the title of this thread to something like Worker Co-ops Closing?

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I think it’s an interesting topic that ought to be thought about, as these are a lot of good coops closing and there’s not really a pipeline of new ones emerging. I’ll say that the last few years have been rocky for Blake House, and we’re doing our best to keep up appearences and produce work, but it’s tough out there.

I imagine there’s some kind of practical solution around Principle 6 that could facilitate, where worker coops pledge to always trade with a fellow worker coop for goods and services when available and possible. Even if the prices are too high for individual budgets, compromises could be made so that the money spent on something is still kept within the movement. Then it becomes a challenge to get links in place so whatever money we earn can stay within the worker cooperative movement.

It probably doesn’t help that a lot of our businesses are in rather disparate industries, but maybe it’s something to aim for in the long term.

In the inital stages of CoTech there was a lot of noise about joining together to write bids for large contracts that couldn’t be won by an individual cooperative. Maybe if could help facilitate the sourcing and writing of these types of contracts, constituent members could then cooperate together and generate revenue. It would be good to learn from the CoTech experience and work out how not to fall into the same potholes.

But I’m writing from the perspective of a service based cooperative, so there needs to be some kind of joined up thinking so that it makes sense for product based cooperatives too.

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Thanks for the prompt to look at this thread @sb.blakehouse

There are lots of different approaches that could be taken here but one thing I would be interested in is just some informal calls/peer support around running a co-op in the current economic environment.

I think it’s worth emphasising that inflation is higher than it has been for thirty-odd years and interest rates haven’t been at this level for fifteen years. We have gone very quickly from benign macroeconomic conditions to extremely challenging ones, and relatively few people running worker co-ops have experience operating outside low inflation and ZIRP. This creates:

  • A challenge because external conditions are now a much bigger factor in costs, pricing, wages etc - and perhaps the sector doesn’t have enough wriggle room to deal with these financial challenges?
  • An opportunity to promote resilient business models & organic growth (especially as tightening fiscal policy makes debt-led growth harder).
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@jacklord like the idea of peer support so by all means flesh out that idea and we can see if people are up for helping. In a similar vein, we have created aimed at people with ideas for new start co-ops.

I was planning for us to launch something called “Co-op Clinic” for members to have the opportunity to talk to an experianced person about their co-ops problems and either answer in that call or signpost them to further (paid) support.

We could trail something specifically aimed at co-ops in crisis, i’m just concious that needs quite a bit of expertise and would need paying for. But interested in thoughts

Could we facilitate a space for co-ops in crisis, so that wouldn’t require professional support that needs paying for, but provides a framework and creates the opportuity for peer support. Often it’s helpful just speaking with others facing familiar challenges, and it would be a nice way to tie together co-ops. Like a peer support network for co-ops in crisis, or “coffee mornings” for co-ops in crisis. This would be relatively easy/light weight to support without having to necessarily take a driving role. Like the local co-op meetup idea (Which we need to resources online for asap) providing a template sort of thing.
As always, could trial it, see how it goes what appetite there is etc.


Yep the webinar series we are trialing means we can spin-up and do online sessions promoted via our events page fairly easily now.

The kicker is finding people to host/faciliate, if its something we need to pay someone for, I think there is budget in the member learning group for peer networks so I proposal could be sent into them.

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I’ve worked with a few co-ops on the point of closure. Some we built a plan and they traded out. Some they failed to implement the plan and I basically advised them to shut before they do too much damage when it was clear they’d blown their chance and could no longer trade out of it. Some it was too late to do anything. In my experience it is usually down to 2 things:

  1. Lack of financial literacy. They didn’t understand their own business was losing money hand over fist until an external person like me explained it to them. Sometimes by then the hole is too big because they have lost all their reserves before it hit the cashflow and they noticed, or they were spending down capital they were due to repay.

  2. Business model failure: Failure of products/loss of customers to competitors/insufficient marketing activity. They basically ran out of sufficient customers buying whatever they sell to provide enough turnover to be viable.

This is sometimes compounded by executive capture and lack of agency by the people who could have saved it or failure to generate sufficient energy from the Members to save their own co-op.