Modern Pioneers #11 – Kevin Edwards, AFS
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 is also Employee Ownership Day.
The Wales Co-operative Centre has a strong and long standing commitment to supporting employee ownership and increasing employee engagement within the Welsh workplace. We have supported employee ownership transitions throughout Wales and were instrumental in developing the deal which led to over 200 miners buying and running Tower Colliery in Hirwaun, Aberdare.
The Centre employs a specialist employee buy-out team which provides advice to businesses across Wales on succession planning and employee ownership.
UK employee owned companies have a turnover of around 3 per cent of GDP (over £30 billion) and operate in a range of sectors including healthcare, social care, education, transport, manufacturing, retail and professional services.
Today’s post looks at the work of Kevin Edwards of Accommodation Furniture Solutions Ltd (AFS). AFS was created by seven ex-Remploy employees, who formed a worker co-operative on the site of the former Remploy factory in Swansea.
“I feel honoured to be associated with the campaign and it is good to know that there are others with the same mind-set and who are very successful at what they do. It is very important to pay tribute to the original pioneers from Rochdale as learning from history helps us grow.
Accommodation Furniture Solutions Limited is a co-operative, started by 7 ex-Remploy, disabled workers in October 2013. The workforce has now grown to 17 disabled people due to the increase in demand. AFS assembles kitchens for local authorities such as Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff, Tai Calon Housing and many others. We also manufacture accommodation furniture and supply local authorities such as Swansea Council and schools, colleges, universities and care homes.
I have worked for many years in private companies but find that the co-operative model to be far superior, due to the fact that we all now work for each other rather than a faceless organisation. All members of the co-operative are willing to go that extra mile, with the customer being the beneficiary.
AFS employs disabled and disadvantaged people within the Swansea/Neath area. We also plan to include a training element in the future. Due to the nature of the workforce we employ those that may not find it easy to obtain employment. Thus the company helps the local economy by giving that person meaningful employment rather than a life on benefits.
AFS is pioneering as it is a manufacturer of high quality furniture and is proving, daily, that disabled people should never be written off and can do an excellent job when given the opportunity and support.
I became involved in the setting up of a co-operative due to the closure of all of the Remploy factories in the UK. I formed a team of 6 other former Remploy employees who all worked at the Swansea base and put together a business plan, to show that the demand for furniture existed and could be serviced from the Swansea factory. Support was made available from the Wales Co-operative Centre and the Welsh Government to help the group lease the old Remploy factory and set up the business. Remploy also donated the machines that are used in the manufacture of furniture.
I believe that, in the current economic climate, co-operatives and mutuals are definitely the way to bring prosperity back to local communities. Whether this takes the form of the local library being closed down by the council and then being run by the community, the local shop/post office and even the local pub. These are all central to the health of the local community and allow older people to continue to socialise on a local level rather than having to travel to centres etc. This can only be a good thing, as otherwise these people could put extra pressure on the NHS, as they could become depressed and ill due to lack of social contact and exercise going to these local venues.
In the manufacturing and service sector there are also plenty of opportunities for co-operatives to be set up. Support from the likes of the Wales Co-operative Centre and the Welsh Government is essential. Procurement professionals should also be educated to understand the nature and value of co-ops.
Find out more about the Rochdale Pioneers through a special, interactive photo.