Ex-Remploy employees launch Swansea worker co-operative – #povertyinwales
We’re taking the opportunity – during Tackling Poverty Fortnight – to re-visit the recent story of seven ex-Remploy employees, who have joined together to form a worker co-operative on the site of the former Remploy Factory in Fforestfach, Swansea.
Accommodation Furniture Solutions Ltd (AFS Ltd) will initially employ 7 ex-Remploy employees who have each invested their redundancy payments into the venture. The new business will assemble and manufacture furniture for various markets and its owners already have ambitious plans to expand and offer more ex-Remploy employees the chance to become involved. The new co-operative aims to utilise the extensive knowledge and skills available in the ex-Remploy workforce and the existing customer relationships to build a profitable, sustainable business.
The first workers began assembling kitchen furniture for the Richmond Cabinet Company, for some of their social housing clients at the site, two weeks ago.
The phoenix business has been made possible with support from the Welsh Government and the Welsh Government Employer Support Grant, Wales Co-operative Centre, Collaborative Communities, Communities 2.0, Social Firms Wales, the Department of Work and Pensions and Unity Trust Bank.
Accommodation Furniture Solutions is a worker co-operative. It is registered as a company limited by shares and is fully owned and controlled by its employees utilising democratic co-operative principles. As the firm grows every new employee will be encouraged to become a member and participate in the running of the company.
The owners of the new firm have extensive accommodation furniture manufacturing skills. AFS Ltd will manufacture and assemble kitchen units, fire surrounds, bathroom panels, NHS and care home furniture and bespoke student accommodation furniture. The company has formed an alliance with Richmond Kitchens, a large company based in Manchester to act as a local assembler for their kitchen fitting and accommodation contracts. AFS Ltd is already in discussions with other local organisations regarding opportunities for fulfilling manufacturing and assembly requirements.
Kevin Edwards is the co-operative’s Managing Director, “When the Remploy factory closed in 2012 we wanted to ensure that the high quality skills within the workforce weren’t lost. With this new worker co-operative, we aim to develop a successful and profitable business and become a leading manufacturer and sub-contracting assembler within the UK market. As we grow, we intend to operate as a financially viable workers co-operative which supports our disabled and disadvantaged workforce and offers training and employment opportunities to the wider Swansea community”.
Welsh Government asked the Wales Co-operative Centre to engage with the ex-Remploy employees to explore and develop any opportunities to create a phoenix business once the factory had closed.
Communities & Tackling Poverty Minister Jeff Cuthbert said: “We have worked tirelessly to help all those whose livelihoods were thrown into doubt and support Remploy workers to find new work and opportunities.
“That is why this new co-operative here in Swansea is such good news. This is a new beginning for the employees who are behind this venture and I am delighted that the Welsh Government has been able to help this become a reality. I wish them all the best for the future and hope to see them go from strength to strength.”
Rhian Edwards is the project manager for the Business Succession project at the Wales Co-operative Centre. She is delighted to see the culmination of many months of work with all the partners involved:
“This phoenix company has been made possible by creative and willing collaboration between a number of different partners such as Welsh Government, Wales Co-operative Centre, Collaborative Communities, Communities 2.0, Social Firms Wales, and Unity Trust Bank, as well as Remploy UK to get this project off the ground.
“However, it is the work and commitment that each of the co-operative members has put into the creation of this business that suggests that AFS has a very bright future ahead of it”.
Collaborative Communities, a European funded regional project, is supporting the new company by funding a Senior Business Development / Sales Manager post for a period of up to 12 months. This person will identify and secure new manufacturing opportunities for the company and will be key to securing its growth forecasts.
The Welsh Government and European Regional Development Fund funded Communities 2.0 is supplying office IT equipment, high end 3D Computer Aided Design and production management software to assist in the start-up.
Remploy will lease the factory to the new business for a period of six months and have agreed to gift a number of assets to the new enterprise.
Conrad John, National Business Development Manager at The Richmond Cabinet Company Limited will be tasked with supporting the phoenix company and will work closely with AFS Ltd to develop new business.
“We are looking forward to building relationships and working with Accommodation Furniture Solutions. The ambition for AFS and Richmond is to develop a customer base and also manufacture and supply Student Accommodation Furniture. The AFS team has come a long way since losing their jobs at Remploy Swansea in 2012 and their drive and determination to make this happen has been incredible”.
AFS Ltd is the latest in a tradition of worker co-ops in Wales. In 1995 Tower Colliery’s workers famously purchased the mine from the NCB and began profitably excavating coal until its eventual closure in 2008. Primepac Solutions Ltd in Ebbw Vale was formed when its parent company withdrew from Wales following a fire. A group of employees invested their redundancy money in setting up a new company and today Primepac is a wholly employee owned company of 22 people with a turnover that has increased from £370k in 2006 to £3.8million in 2012.