With 138 members earning the same salary – more than £30,000, plus incentives and bonuses – this workers co-op’s impact on the West Yorkshire economy is growing. And so is its value as a best-practice model: as Suma member Rebecca Kinnard says, it is attracting local interest because it shows that co-operation works.
“Awareness of our high wages and incentives like free breakfast and free two-course lunch is growing,” she says. “People want to know how we organise.”
Suma allocates £30,000 a year for sponsorship and donations, including new accounts through which to supply free Suma goods. But perhaps more importantly, members, workers, suppliers and customers are sharing what they have learned from Suma – from a local level to internationally.
Members visit schools and universities to talk about co-ops, and local sixth forms use Suma as a case study on business courses. Students from Nottingham University recently set up a food-buying group and became Suma customers.
The impact of Suma’s example is especially striking in West Yorkshire. Suma member Jenny Stein was treasurer of Slaithwaite’s Green Valley Grocer co-op for its first three years – and Leeds Bread Co-op was co-founded by one of Suma’s short-term workers, with other members contributing as advisers, crowdfunders and customers.
Suma member Bob Cannell, who represents Northern Europe at the World Federation of Worker Coops (CICOPA), helped organise a visit to Suma and other European co-ops for workers from South Korea’s WOOJIN bus company, which was handed over to its workers by the courts after the union sued its private owners for non-payment of wages.
Suma is beginning to formalise this kind of support and, at its January general meeting, voted to set up a Worker Co-op Solidarity Fund. Each week Suma will contribute £1 for each of its 138 members to support a network of worker co-ops. The fund is also open to contributions from other worker co-ops. The focus will be on education and training in industrial democracy and collective ownership, bringing worker co-ops together and sharing best practice.
Suma’s commitment to ethical trading also has a knock-on effect. Support for local businesses like the Little Valley Brewery, which brews Suma’s own-label beers, has been critical in their success. In some cases, former Suma workers have used their expertise to become suppliers; Calder Valley Soaps was taken over by two Suma members and now makes Suma’s own-brand soaps.
Suma addresses concerns about its environmental impact by holding clean-ups on the river next to its premises and providing a re-use and recycling service for customers.
The co-op is also working hard to minimise its use fossil fuels and other resources but, as its business has expanded, so has consumption. Suma’s average CO2 emissions are around 900-1000 tonnes annually, largely due to the burning of mineral diesel in its distribution fleet.
It plans to generate the electricity it needs on the premises – and, to offset the impact of the carbon it is unable to control at source, it works in a match-funding capacity with a local environmental group, Treesponsibility.
The group has planted an average of five hectares of woodland every year since 2000, creating a carbon sink capable of absorbing several thousand tonnes of CO2 over the next 50 years.
Every year, Suma workers are encouraged to take a paid day planting trees, which also provides a sustainable resource for coppicers.
The co-op also offers supplies to four local food banks around West Yorkshire, dropping off unsaleable stock whenever large amounts became available.
“We’re formalising this to make it more efficient,” says Rebecca Kinnard. “We’re gathering information on what they’re most in need of to ensure we don’t send products they can’t use. The aim is to set up a regular donation on top of the current system, guaranteeing them useful stock.”
Last year, volunteers from the foodbanks and other local charities attended Suma’s first ‘Community Christmas’ dinner.
“We wanted to show our support and appreciation for the hard work they dedicate to others,” Rebecca says. “We hope to be able to do the same again this year for more volunteers. It’s a great chance for those working in their community to chat and discuss new ideas.”
In this article
- Bob Cannell
- Huddersfield Student Union
- Huddersfield Welcome Centre
- Jenny Stein
- Nottingham University
- Rebecca Kinnard
- South Korea
- Suma Wholefoods
- Worker Co-op Solidarity Fund
- Worker cooperative
- World Federation of Worker Coops
- Marie-Claire Kidd
- North America
- United Kingdom
- Top Stories