Modern Pioneers #4 – Alison Banton, Dulas
We’re running a campaign for Co-operatives Fortnight (21st June – 5th July) that shows the strength and diversity of co-operative businesses in Wales.
Through a series of blog posts, the ‘Modern Pioneers’ campaign highlights the sizes and types of co-operatives in Wales and the sectors in which they operate. It’s inspired by the Rochdale Pioneers, who are among the forefathers of the co-operative movement.
Today’s post looks at the work of Alison Banton from Dulas, which is a leading renewable energies business that is founded on co-operative principles.
“It was a great to be asked to pose as a ‘pioneer’ in the photo-shoot and I got to visit the Robert Owen Museum at the same time. That really brought it home just what ‘pioneers’ those 13 Rochdale gentlemen were. They had a vision of co-operativeness that we all benefit from today and not a flipchart or tablet in sight! I was also quite chuffed at being asked to represent Dulas, who are real pioneers of renewable energy in Wales. Alongside CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology), Dulas pioneered co-operative working in mid Wales over 35 years ago. Plus, it has to be said, pleased to add some gender balance to the proceedings!
Dulas Ltd is a projects and renewable energy consultancy based business working within the renewable energy sector both here in the UK and overseas. It has been at the forefront of the UK renewables industry for over three decades and has operated as a worker co-op since 1982. We operate mainly in the wind, solar PV, biomass and hydro sectors and are also deeply committed to our international business of using renewable energy as a sustainable solution to power requirements. Our international team exports solar powered vaccine refrigeration to some of the remotest parts of the world, where electricity supply is intermittent or non-existent.
I have only ever worked for worker co-ops and now have 31 years of experience, and the ‘one worker, one vote’ principle is as important to me as my pay. At Dulas, we recognise skill and expertise in our operational structure from engineering to management, but we have our core set of values and principles and a collective vision that I, as a shareholder, have participated in, approved and benefited from. It’s important for me to be able to engage in our democratic process, to have input into strategy and key business decisions, it makes the day job more satisfying!
Our co-operative is one of the largest employers in the area, so delivering secure and rewarding jobs is one of our core principles. We trade locally as far as we can, though our key suppliers are often based abroad. We have an amazing skill set within our business so local ventures gain from co-operative finance skills – community film projects and wind turbine shares, engineering skills for community wind projects and local theatre production lighting and even lifeboat rescue by the hydro team!
In the early days it was about finding appropriate technological solutions to energy problems that were creating havoc with people’s lives, then as the business became more sustainable it pioneered a co-operative way of working, of sharing skills and tasks and pay and really cool benefits like 4 weeks paid paternity leave – we’ve had that for over 25 years. Recently, it’s felt that we’re pioneering as we manage huge growth, company acquisitions and disposals, remote working and Welsh and Scottish locations and implementing a new governance structure whilst remaining true to ‘one person, one vote’ and our collective vision, values and principles.
Back when I was 16, bored with O Level revision and thinking about ‘the future’, I discovered fab drawings by Clifford Harper of ‘Liberated Terrace’ and ‘Basement Workshop’ and just thought – that makes sense, why don’t we all live and work like that and then Suma showed that it could be done. I helped set up a wholefood co-op with Neil and the co-op principles helped us deal with the initial challenges, but it was through engaging another co–op, Suma, that was key to our success. As a worker co-op, they were committed to helping us establish our co–op and their initial set up loan and ‘line of credit’ were vital as was their willingness to share knowledge of Articles and IPS paperwork. They showed me back then in 1983, when times were hard for a lot of people, that having a share/ taking responsibility/ having a voice made for a more open, fair and beneficial community and that following co-op principles created a self-determining workforce that could work through challenges together.
Co-operatives and mutuals have long demonstrated that they have sustainability at their very core and this is vital to any economic growth but especially in Wales where the economy seems to struggle with rapid growth, followed by a slow decline. Economic growth seems to have become synonymous with chasing quick and fat profits for remote shareholders who move on when the need for larger profits, via cheaper resources, kicks in, but a co-operative model creates more ties. Shareholders and stakeholders as beneficiaries set the profit level or benefit return to suit their requirements and then create other ties by trading with other co-ops and mutuals. This way, a community of workers or shoppers or residents start to affect their community and benefit from it also. Economic development in Wales must have sustainability at its core if it’s to succeed and the co- operative model delivers this in spades.”
Find out how co-operatives can be helped in Wales, through the business support section of our website.