West Midlands Ownership Hub to launch in May

The hub will focus on the arts and culture sector

In 2020, Co-operatives UK and the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) set a movement-wide challenge: to create 1 million owners in the UK by 2030.

“The #1MillionOwners campaign aims to see a five-fold expansion in employee and worker ownership over the next decade,” said Co-operatives UK at the time. 

“[The campaign] is ambitious, but crucial if we’re to improve job creation and retention; if we want to increase productivity; if we want more inclusive businesses; if we want more sustainable development and good work.” 

It’s a big ask – and one that is being supported by regional Ownership Hubs: partnerships with local authorities to support businesses, professional advisers and regions to raise awareness, knowledge and capacity to grow employee and worker ownership.

Today there are two Ownership Hubs – in London and South Yorkshire – with a third about to launch in the West Midlands with a special focus on the creative and culture sectors, in partnership with the West Midlands Combined Authority cultural team.

The project co-ordinator for the new hub is Jo Ind, herself a writer and arts producer.

Related: Co-operators mobilise to save Birmingham’s community spaces

“Sharing ownership – whether that’s through worker co-ops or employee-owned businesses – is a good thing,” she says. “It encourages innovation and resilience, is more equitable and more people would do it if they knew about [the models].”

The last year has been a whirlwind introduction to co-ops for Ind. Having previously “stumbled across co-operatives in passing”, last summer she applied to be the community shares administrator for the campaign to bring Birmingham’s York Supplies hardware store into community ownership.

“I love York supplies, and wanted to be part of the campaign to save it,” she says. “I loved it! And it meant I got to know more about co-ops. Then when this job was advertised supporting co-ops in the creative sector, it looked interesting.”

The West Midlands Ownership Hub aims to open with a “spectacular launch and grand reveal” in late May, with the support of West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street.

“But we’re not going to launch without anything to direct people to,” adds Ind. 

To this end, she is working on a suite of packages. Potential worker co-ops will be able to access six days of free business support offered by Co-operatives UK, and she wants to put on free half-day workshops with people who understand both co-ops and the challenges of the creative sector. For employee-owned businesses, packages will include six months of free membership of the EOA, with access to its resources, and a seminar and training on succession planning for businesses considering converting to employee ownership. 

One of her challenges is articulating the difference between a worker co-op (which she sees as “a way of taking ownership”) and employee ownership (“an owned business being passed on to employees”).

Another challenge is the narrative. “What can co-ops and EO businesses offer to people in the creative and cultural sectors, and why are they good things for this sector in particular?” she says. 

“These are freelance sectors, and often very misunderstood for this reason. This also means people are vulnerable, so some of the opportunities for freelance co-ops are coming together and outsourcing functions, and enjoying shared studio space or economies of scale. This also means you don’t have to outsource marketing or have to pay extortionate agent fees. This is where the co-op model can really help freelancers.”

To grow employee-ownership, the hub will be targeting established business ownership. But, she adds, the language for business and the language for artists is very different.

“To grow worker co-ops, I need to reach the artists, and so need to steer clear of business language,” says Ind.

“So, this is how I’m going to frame it: a co-op is a way of organising yourselves that enables you to do your own work without being on your own.”