Camaraderie and collective purpose – why we need worker co-operatives

With many workers facing a precarious future and thinking about their employment options, Jess Davidson from Arfon Timber shows how a co-operative approach to self-employment offers independence and self-determinism without the isolation and risks of going it alone.

See this page in: Cymraeg

Arfon Timber is a Welsh workers co-operative. We design and build resilient timber structures; fusing traditional techniques with contemporary eco-building technology. All our timber is sourced locally and processed at our own sawmill. We also supply a range of naturally durable timber products for building and landscaping.

The co-operative was formed by a group of sole traders, who came together organically; initially teaming up to work on specific projects, before finally incorporating. Today we are a workers co-operative, collectively owned and operated by our six members. We have a non-hierarchical equal pay structure and practice consensus decision making. In addition to a basic salary, co-op members get an equal share in the profits the business makes each year.

As a collective we found we were able to go for bigger, more interesting contracts and invest in better tools and infrastructure. One of the obvious benefits is that we are able to team up on some of the necessities of running a business – things like insurance, administration and advertising, which frees up more time and resources to do what it is we actually do. We find we work in less of a hand to mouth way – allowing us to take a step back and look at where the business is going – and where we would like it to go.

There are other, subtler benefits to incorporating that contribute to the quality of life of the members; we are able to work flexibly, learn new skills and develop new products – without compromising the day to day running of the business. There is a sense of camaraderie, and a sense of collective purpose. We also stick to better working practices; as sole traders it is easy to fall into bad habits; working long hours and getting burnt out.

The reasons for incorporating were numerous, however deciding precisely how was complicated due to the range of options open to us. As equal members of a workers co-operative we find we have retained the sense of independence and self-determinism that we had as sole traders, but without the isolation and associated risks of going it alone. None of us felt like we enjoyed working in a traditional top-down business structure, so a non-heirachical structure works well for us!

Being a social enterprise has become an important part of the identity of the business and has served to broaden our appeal. Customers are able to identify with our ethics due to their preconceptions of the co-operative brand. There is also an excellent range of support open to establishing and developing co-operatives that we have benefited from.

During the lockdown the business has proved resilient – this year so far hasn’t gone anything like we had imagined, and certainly hasn’t been without its challenges, but we had the flexibility and breadth of skill within the team to find ways for us all to keep working.

This blog is published as part of a series for Co-operatives Fortnight 2020. Let’s build something better together. #KeepCooperating

Jess Davidson from Arfon Timber

“As equal members of a workers co-operative we find we have retained the sense of independence and self-determinism that we had as sole traders, but without the isolation and associated risks of going it alone.”

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