National employee ownership drive opens first hub in Sheffield

The city region is the first to sign up to the initiative from the EOA and Co-operatives UK

A national initiative to raise awareness, knowledge and capacity in the employee and worker ownership sectors has launched its first development hub, in Sheffield.

The Sheffield City Region is the first area to work with the Ownership Hub, a partnership between the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) and Co-operatives UK. Its Labour/Co-op mayor Dan Jarvis said: “This is a hugely exciting opportunity. Not just because it gives us the chance to boost our support for co-ops and employee ownership, but because it will help to weave the thread of co-operation through our plan for economic recovery and renewal in South Yorkshire.

“It is an integral part of a greater effort to not just create a more dynamic, productive and resilient economy, but to reform its structure – to change the system in a way which makes it fairer, more inclusive, and better able to serve the aspirations and needs of the people of South Yorkshire.

“It complements other threads of that vision – linking support for wider ownership to reformed procurement, incentives around investments in companies, the creation of a business charter, community wealth building, stronger devolution and democracy, and a just carbon transition.”

The EOA and Co-operatives UK developed the initiative as part of their campaign to create more than 1 million good jobs by 2030 through businesses giving employees a stake and say.

There are around 1,100 worker and employee owned businesses in the UK. Together they contribute over £40bn to the UK economy and provide more than 200,000 jobs.

Deb Oxley, CEO of the EOA, said: “The benefits of giving employees and workers a stake and say – better engagement, better productivity and more sustainable, resilient jobs – are well evidenced.

“While the growth of employee and worker ownership is accelerating, we needed a new approach for a chance for it to grow at scale and deliver impact in economies and communities, so we are delighted to launch the Ownership Hub and welcome Sheffield to blaze a trail for other regions.”

Success stories of employee ownership include Gripple, a market-leading manufacturer of wire joining and tensioning devices headquartered in Sheffield. Set up in the 1990s, its ownership was transferred to the employees in 2011 and today the business is a global success employing more than 670 employee owners, manufacturing 6,000 products and exporting 85% of its trade to 80 countries.

Hugh Facey, founder of Gripple, said: “I have been able to step back from the business which is now run by employees who have moved up and will keep it alive for future generations through employee ownership. Our employees owners are committed because they personally have shares in the business – this leaves us in a great position to innovate and grow.

“We are a global business – 85% export – but rooted in Sheffield, so we are delighted that the Sheffield City Region will be leading the way in growing employee and worker ownership as part of its economic strategy.”

Working intensively in geographic areas, and tapping into existing business networks, the Ownership Hub targets business founders at start-up stage to consider forming worker co-operatives, businesses that are looking at succession to consider employee ownership, as well as helping professional advisers build their knowledge to support employee or worker owned businesses. It supports regions to take a strategic approach to growing employee and worker ownership as part of their economic strategy.

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK said: “We’re delighted to welcome Sheffield City region as the first of many regional partners, and we’re already talking to other areas that recognise the value of worker co-ops and employee ownership in creating a fairer, more inclusive economy. The pandemic has shone a light on inequalities across the UK, and workers owning an equal share of businesses is an effective and practical way to redress this balance of power.”

Sheffield-based Beanies Wholefoods puts its resilience down to its worker co-operative structure.

Worker owner Rachael Eaton said: “Operating a food retail business in the midst of pandemic has been a hugely stressful time but we have risen to the occasion, keeping the shop operating and doubling the capacity of our deliveries to ensure the people of Sheffield could continue to access fresh fruit and vegetables. We have even taken on two new co-op members in the past year as the business has grown. I believe being able to achieve all this has been down to the fact we are a co-op. We have pulled together during these challenging times and become more like a family than co-workers.”