Obituary: Michael Jones, founder of jeweller and wholefood co-ops

Michael Jones, who handed over his jewellery business as a co-operative to his staff in 1970, has died aged 85. He founded Northampton and Banbury firm Michael Jones...

Michael Jones, who handed over his jewellery business as a co-operative to his staff in 1970, has died aged 85.

He founded Northampton and Banbury firm Michael Jones Jeweller and was a well-regarded supporter of the industry, chairing the National Association of Goldsmiths from 1978 to 1980, and serving as president from 1995-1997 – despite having retired in 1990.

Michael Jones Jeweller continues as a successful co-operative to this day with three branches across the region.

Mr Jones also co-founded the Daily Bread Co-operative – a Christian workers’ co-operative specialising in packing and selling wholefoods – in 1976, opening it for business four years later.

He died on March 5 surrounded by his family at Northampton General Hospital, 18 days after collapsing at his home from a stroke. Friends and relatives remembered a man guided by kindness and his Christian faith.

Michael Jones

William Craghill, managing director of Michael Jones Jewellers, told the local press: “Michael was a great man and he will be very sadly missed. I worked with him for 44 years and he was an inspiration to those who knew him. It was a peaceful end to a very full life.”

Mr Jones took over the family business – formed by his parents in 1919 as a pawnbroker – when his father died in 1960.

Three years later he decided to turn it into “one of the best jeweller’s in the county” and sold off stock so he could focus on selling gold, jewellery and watches.

In 1970, Mr Jones turned his family business into a co-operative, with his employees as shared owners.

He later said: “In my business life my best decision was to turn the company into a co-operative, owned and managed by those who worked in it.

“I did this because I believed the scriptural teaching that those who lead are the servants of those who are led and that the enterprise in which people worked is at its best when it is owned and managed by those who work in it.”

Mr Craghill added: “For someone who built the business up himself that was an odd thing to do at the time. He had a caring side – even after he retired in 1996, he cared about the business and its employees, even when he had no hand in running it.”

Daily Bread was the first co-op to register under a set of worker co-op model rules, which was subsequently used by 100s of other co-ops, and is listed as ‘Co-op No.1’ under the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM), which now forms part of Co-operatives UK.

Co-founder Roger Sawtell said: “We were friends and co-operative colleagues for almost 50 years. In the 1970s I was chair of ICOM (the Industrial Common Ownership Movement) and was asked to formulate an updated set of rules under the I&PS Acts, suitable for worker co-ops.

“We registered Daily Bread Co-operative Ltd in 1976 as a trial run for the ICOM Model Rules, with Michael, myself and five others as signatories and founder members.

“These rules were subsequently used by several hundred co-operative businesses (until ICOM was incorporated into Co-operatives UK in 2001).”

The Daily Bread Co-op, which served as a model for later wholefood co-ops such as Unicorn, was part of Mr Jones’s efforts to translate his Christian beliefs into a business environment, selling ethical, organic and Fairtrade products.

Its aims were to provide employment people with mental disability or those rehabilitating into society; to run the business in an ecologically friendly manner; and to donate a proportion of all income to the local and global communities.

The workforce stands at around 25, including members and non-members, full- and part-time, and the annual turnover stands at around £1.3m.

Its efforts tied in with Mr Jones’s work on the committee of the Northamptonshire MIND charity, where he served as chair for several years.

Mr Sawtell says it was his friend’s Christian faith that fed into his co-operative ideals, including his decision to turn his jeweller’s into a co-op.

“He could have been a millionaire several times over,” he added, “and he would not describe himself as a radical nor an obvious co-operative pioneer, but his life-long deep-seated Christian beliefs challenged him to transform the business to enable it to be owned and managed by the working group.

“It has grown and prospered and is now the leading jewellery business in the area with around 30 people and a turnover of £5 million. Michael wanted people to enjoy their work and regard it ‘worthy of the time it consumes’.”

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