The co-operative, which produces bright fluorescent clothing for childen, traces its roots back to 1993 when Alison Holland was “a parent with time on her hands who wanted to get more children walking safely to school”.
She helped to set up a walking bus — a group of pupils walking to school together with adult leaders — at her local primary school. The walking bus was a success, but Mrs Holland was disappointed by the lack of help available to parents wanting to start such an initiative.
And while the pupils were pleased to be walking to school, they were less than impressed with the standard high-visibility clothing they were being made to wear.
To tackle the first concern, Alison decided to start an information website for parents and schools looking to start their own walking buses and to keep the children happy she started a design club at school where pupils could experiment with different colours and styles to create their own trendy high visibility waistcoats.
The website proved popular and the pupils were so pleased with their trendy safety-wear that Alison decided to start selling them to cover the costs of running of the site. From there the business has continued to evolve. As the product range continued to grow a shop was brought online and it became clear the business was soon going to be too big for just Alison and her husband Lance to manage.
“I thought long and hard about company ownership,” she says. “I thought about what I really wanted for the business and how to organise it. The co-operative model just seemed so right for us.”
Alison then spent time talking to other co-operatives and also received help and advice from Northamptonshire CDA before deciding to register the business as a workers’ co-operative. Today, Brightkidz employs seven people. Four are co-op members while the other three part time workers are still to decide. Whether members or not, the co-operative works hard to foster an ethos of involvement and participation in decision making.
While all workers have their own individual specialisms, they also cross-train, allowing them to carry out other jobs within the co-operative.
The development of Brightkidz has benefited from government initiatives that require all schools to produce school travel plans by 2010 and a commitment for all year six pupils (11 year olds) to receive cycle training.
Local authorities and businesses sponsoring local schools now make up the bulk of Brightkidz customer base, but the co-operative prides itself on being able to supply single items to individuals and families. Major customers include the Co-operative Group, which has its own walking bus sponsorship scheme and Brightkidz is keen to work with other co-operative businesses that are looking to either work with local schools or looking for a range of promotional merchandise.
The co-operative also takes great pride in the fact that, where possible, it sources its materials from UK manufacturers. Alison Holland says this is not purely for patriotic reasons: “Obviously it’s good to support other UK businesses — particularly in difficult times — but we’ve found that we get much quicker turnaround and greater flexibility from UK suppliers, which is very important to us.”
Brightkidz has enjoyed year-on-year growth and can see direct benefits to its business from the current economic situation, such as people using their cars less.
Looking ahead, the co-operative remains optimistic and ambitious. Despite the growth in sales, the co-operative remains committed to its original aim “to promote sustainable transport, road safety and active lifestyles for children”.
• The Brightkidz website and online store can be found at www.brightkidz.co.uk.