Sam Nordland on worker co-ops and co-op housing at scale

‘We hope that is able to mobilise and educate around worker co-ops in a more strategic and focused fashion going forward’ is a UK-based federation of worker co-ops, founded in 2022, that aims to be the “network and voice” for worker co-operation. Charged with raising the profile of the federation is Sam Nordland.

“My role is mobilising co-ordinator and communications worker, so I work primarily on member engagement and mobilising through activities, roles, and projects, and I also do some of our comms, like the newsletter,” she says. 

“I am also the driver of the movement-building working group, which is one of our two strategic coordination groups, the other being co-op support and development. Although we have a board, our structure allows maximum member-led activity through the open working groups.”

Nordland is one of three paid workers at, and first became involved in co-ops in 2018 when she was part of a small group of people who co-founded the Warehouse Café, a worker co-op eatery and event space in Birmingham. The café closed shortly after the pandemic, but Nordland’s commitment to the co-op cause has continued. 

“I had experienced precarious work in hospitality and catering, and previously struggled to find meaningful work in something I loved that fit with my broader beliefs and values,” she explains. “I wanted to collectively start something that could provide security through a model in line with my personal values. 

“Doing it alone was not an option, and doing it as a co-operative provided a way to contribute to a business in an area I had experience in, which was an empowering and creative experience. We provided jobs for ourselves and introduced a lot of people into working for a co-op who had never heard of it before.”

Sam Nordland now hosts the annual Worker Co-op Weekend, this year held in June, and attended by around 60 co-operators.

“[The weekend] felt like the start of something bigger and more organised,” said Nordland. “We see the importance of having in-person events as crucial moments that propel a lot of momentum, energy and focus. For a movement of change, moments of fun and celebration are just as necessary alongside the hard work.”

The hope is to scale up for 2025 and have over 100 worker co-ops attend, while increasing membership to help the federation become more sustainable. “We also hope that is able to mobilise and educate around worker co-ops in a more strategic and focused fashion going forward. How we intend to do that will be based on the lessons of getting started and that is what we are currently working on alongside our projects.”

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One of the latest developments at is the new Punchcard podcast – which Nordland recently featured in – available on their website. 

“It’s off to a good start, lots of people have said they’ve tuned in! It’s a new format that allows us to hear from the people behind the scenes working in co-ops who might not otherwise get their voices heard. We’ve also just launched a worker co-op map and we’ll be scaling up our online learning programme later this year by hosting two-hour sessions on topics relevant to worker co-ops, delivered by worker co-ops. 

“And we’ve been running a Co-op Clinic for people wanting more answers about starting a co-op. This is being developed into a Mentor and Advisor Matchmaking service through a support directory on our website that will connect those seeking advice with those who can give it.”

Still based in Birmingham, Nordland is a member of the Stirchley Co-operative Development (SCD), an £11m project combining 39 flats and co-operative businesses including cycle repair shop Birmingham Bike Foundry, bakery and cookery school Loaf and Artefact Projects, a community art space housing exhibitions, performances, meeting spaces and a cafe/bar. The ground-breaking initiative is due to be completed in spring 2025 and Nordland devotes as much of her spare time as she can to the project as a volunteer.

“SDC was driven by local worker co-ops not being able to afford the yearly increases in rent for their shops and rents rising for homes, meaning Stirchley was becoming increasingly unaffordable,” she says. 

“The vision was always to ‘think big’ about how we could overcome gentrification and rent rises to solve our needs on our own; the alternative would be us individually being driven out of the city.

“Our first and main membership intake is complete – we welcomed about 19 probationary new members at the start of summer. That is going very well as we navigate the hiccups of getting everyone up to speed on a project that has been ongoing for years. We’ve made an Initial Purchases Guide to help us collectively plan and save for moving in costs, and are currently co-planning the roof garden!”

One of the most intriguing aspects of the project is that it will be a car-free zone. 

“We made it clear from the outset that sustainable transport was one of the project visions, but we haven’t had any issues as the vast majority of member applicants didn’t
drive anyway.

“The development will only allow car parking for disabled residents, and instead of a car park, we have planned ample cycle parking. We’re able to do this because the site is a five minute walk from a train station, next to a major bus route, and on a national cycle route. And we will have a bike co-op, Birmingham Bike Foundry, on site.” 

The lack of car parking was the biggest planning headache, Nordland adds, and the group “felt the effects of breaking the mould” – although planning permission was eventually granted with overwhelming local support.

“It’s been a real struggle, especially in Birmingham, which is a very car-based city,” she says. “But I think car-free developments are the future and will have to become more accepted as our urban centres become integral in adapting to climate change.”

The development had over 200 applications for about 20 vacancies, with members admitted based on housing need and suitability for co-op membership. “This was hard because we had to turn down so many people who would have been great members,” says Nordland, “but we hope we can inspire others to self-organise similar projects in Birmingham to meet this demand.

“We were able to make use of the government’s funding for social housing to create a project on a scale that individually would not have been possible. Individual housing co-ops are great but cannot provide the level of housing required, which is why projects on this scale are necessary.”