Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

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Digital Inclusion is one of our most effective weapons in the fight against poverty

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Get Merthyr Tydfil Online launch

Get Merthyr Tydfil Online Launch: (Left to Right) Angela Jones – Communities 2.0, Derek Walker, Chief Executive Wales Co-operative Centre, Mike Owen, Chief Executive Merthyr Valleys Homes, Eleanor Marks, Welsh Government, Ian Benbow, Head of Service, Social Regeneration, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.

Derek Walker, Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, looks at how digital inclusion, financial inclusion and social enterprise support work together to protect people from poverty and to mitigate against its impact.

Today is the launch of Get Swansea Online, a local initiative that aims to help Swansea’s estimated 45,000 digitally excluded residents to use the internet. This is the latest in a series of initiatives brokered by Communities 2.0, the Welsh Government digital inclusion project.

At yesterday’s launch of another initiative, Get Merthyr Tydfil Online, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty Jeff Cuthbert congratulated Communities 2.0 on its collaborative and partnership led approach. He emphasised the importance of helping people to get online and use the internet to save money and to find jobs. He stated that “digital exclusion compounds isolation” and said that Get Merthyr Tydfil Online has the potential to “reach the most digitally and financially excluded citizens” in the county. Last week the Minister visited a similar initiative in the Caia Park area of Wrexham. The political will is certainly there to ensure that everyone in Wales has access to the internet and the skills to use it effectively in the fight against poverty – but there is still more to be done.

We are very lucky here in the Wales Co-operative Centre. Through our work as lead partner of Communities 2.0, and through our own projects on financial inclusion and social enterprise development, we see the positive improvements our interventions can bring to the lives of people in real danger of falling below the bread line. Across Wales we see people, helped by Communities 2.0 and our financial inclusion initiatives, gain IT skills and use those skills to get jobs and get out of debt.  Communities 2.0 recently supported Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent MIND’s social enterprise arm ‘Training in MIND’ with an investment of nearly £5,000. The support will help pay for new laptop and desktop computers in their IT suite. The IT suite is manned by volunteers running drop-in sessions for people to update their IT skills and search for jobs. The organisation is currently setting up a work club for people who attend the centre. This is an excellent example of a social enterprise integrating digital inclusion and anti-poverty measures into its social aims and on the ground delivery.

At the Wales Co-operative Centre we also see the difference in our communities when they are engaged and enabled and can build social enterprises that reinvest their surpluses back into training and job creation. Galeri Caernarfon Cyf is a social enterprise that is focussed on regenerating the town of Caernarfon. Over the years it has regenerated properties and spaces in the town and opened up a highly successful arts centre. It now employs 36 full time equivalent jobs directly and supports over 40 in its tenant businesses. It is estimated that this one social enterprise has an economic impact of almost £1.3m to the economies of Gwynedd and Ynys Môn. In fact, Galeri is among just 6% of firms in Gwynedd that employ more than 25 people.

The Wales Co-operative Centre receives funding from a number of different sources to allow us to deliver our support work to communities across Wales. Our funders include the European Regional Development Fund, Welsh Government and the Oak Foundation.

This year, we have also led on a project which encourages individuals to use the services of local credit unions to help them ensure that their rent payment gets to their landlords – meaning that they can keep a roof over their own and their family’s heads. In Caerphilly, development staff are working directly with individuals to suggest ways in which they can use existing support and advice to make the money they have last longer.

We are also managing and promoting  which offers signposting to advice on saving and loans, debt and benefits. Access to digital resources is now intrinsically linked to good money management and to allowing individuals to take control of their own lives.

Financial and digital inclusion doesn’t just reduce isolation, but it allows freedom, liberty and empowerment. It allows individuals and groups to take their next steps forward – individually in the jobs market or as entrepreneurs, and collectively as empowered communities and social enterprises.

We believe that by integrating financial and digital inclusion with community engagement and real support for social enterprises and charities, it is possible to alleviate some of the poverty that currently exists in Wales. But, just as importantly, we believe that this sort of support is empowering. It allows people to make decisions about their own futures. It allows them to build their skills and their confidence and it empowers individuals to lift themselves out of poverty and stay out of it.


The importance of engagement in employee ownership – five examples from across the UK and across the world.

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A number of our Business Succession and Employee Ownership team members visited the UK Employee Ownership Conference in Birmingham recently. Here, Rhian Edwards, Project Manager within our Business Succession Team, discusses the importance that employee engagement has in the employee ownership process – and in developing focussed business growth.

The employee ownership conference is an annual event held in Birmingham by the Employee Ownership Association. Although employee ownership is seen by many as a niche approach, there are lessons that can be learnt from companies utilising employee ownership successfully from around the world.  Employee ownership can be a sensible long term exit strategy for business owners – but it can also be an amazingly powerful tool for developing employee engagement and innovation.

Some of the key similarities between the businesses that we observed at the conference included:

Focus on innovation – each of the companies presenting focussed on innovation and company growth

Focus on engagement – real, positive engagement with employees or employee-owners was seen as integral to the companies’ growth and success

Focus on business – whichever approach the companies used to engage with employees and promote the employee ownership approach, all the companies focussed on doing business and doing it well. There may not always have been as large a focus on profits or shareholder return but where that was the case, the emphasis was always on business growth and personal fulfilment across the company.

Here are five examples of companies that struck us as interesting and good examples of how employee ownership can work in practice.

WL Gore

Sector:  Advanced Materials

WL Gore is a US based multinational with offices and production units all over the world. It is largely employee owned and has been named one of the best workplaces in the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, and Italy for several years in a row. Perhaps most famous for inventing the Gore-tex material used in outdoor clothing, Gore has created numerous products for electronic signal transmission, fabric laminates, medical implants and fibres technologies for diverse industries across the world.

Belief in the individual and small teams is core to the culture at Gore. They believe people need to know each other to trust each other – so no plant has more than 180 people as they believe that any more than that makes it impossible to know everyone personally. Their employee ownership culture is based on three aspects:

  • Interest & Motivation
  • Business Needs
  • Knowledge & Skills

Gore believe that innovation and new product development comes from creating balanced teams with leaders that evolve from each team. That’s right, the team leader role defers to the person who is most knowledgeable about the topic under discussion. Salary levels relate to an individuals ranking in a team although salaries are kept confidential. This unusual approach is highly successful and has led to Gore earning  a position on FORTUNE’s annual list of the U.S. “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2011 with a worldwide sales of over £3billion.

Clansman Dynamics

Sector:  Manufacturing

Clansman Dynamics is a Scottish manufacturing tools company based in Lanarkshire. It is an award winning company that develops and supplies high technology solutions for material handling in harsh working environments such as forges and steelworks. It has been employee owned since 2009.

The company is in the process of developing its employee engagement and the feeling of ownership within its employee base, but  working hard to achieve it. They hold regular ‘pizza meetings’ where a different employee from the workforce will be tasked with presenting key company figures to their peers – this encourages  employees to take responsibility for understanding the financial data that effects them as owners and as employees. The company has encountered increased levels of productivity since moving into employee ownership.

The fact that the company is owned by its employees, who live close to the factory, means that the company is ‘glued’ to Scotland. Its ownership structure means that the company can’t be bought by an external company, stripped and moved elsewhere – a lesson that we in Wales should consider carefully.


AG Parfett & Sons

Sector:  Retail (Wholesale)

AG Parfett & Sons is a family-run cash and carry business split over 6 sites in the North West of England. In 2008 the family sold 55% of the shares in the business to an Employee Ownership Trust which holds the shares on behalf of the employees. The Trust is committed to buying the remaining 45% of the shares in the future to achieve the aim of Parfetts becoming fully employee owned. The company vision enshrines employee ownership as an integral element of its strategy:

“To continue to grow a successful and profitable business, incorporating the values and ethics of an employee owned company, and to encourage a collective responsibility, that recognises the importance of the welfare and development of both employees and customers.”

The family didn’t consult with employees before placing an element of ownership of the company into the Employee Benefit Trust. The company has found that middle management have been the biggest doubters of the merits of employee ownership – it can be seen as a threat to their position within the business, and in Parfetts case they are not yet fully engaged in the process. This demonstrates that it is essential to put in place effective communication strategies during the change to employee ownership – but also to ensure that good communication is enshrined within the company culture as the benefits and responsibilities that come with employee ownership are taken on board by the employees.



Sector:  Manufacturing

Gripple is an employee owned manufacturing company that was built on the success of a wire tensioning device aimed at farming and agriculture. Innovation is the foundation of their culture. They have created new products in different sectors including construction. In 2003, they opened a sister company, Loadhog, focussed on developing transit solutions such as the Loadhog Lid, the Smartstak frame, and a pallet/dolly hybrid, the Pally.

Gripple insists that all employees take a stake in the business as a condition of employment. The investment is £1000 (or local equivalent) into GLIDE (Growth Led, Innovation Driven, Employee Company), a company limited by guarantee which represents all shareholders and works on democratic principles of one member, one vote. Glide is the receiver of gifted shares from the company’s founder. Eventually, over 60% of the shares will be owned by GLIDE and the employees.

GLIDE was created to act as a custodian for the shares and harness the company culture. Innovation is built into the strategic business planning and future targets in the Gripple group of companies. They aim for 10% growth per annum but with turnover to come from 25% new products every four years. The company sees itself as having a responsibility to invest in social and financial well being, sports and social facilities and most importantly, product and process improvements and patented technology to support its ambitious innovation driven growth targets.


Childbase Partnership

Sector: Childcare

The Childbase Partnership employs 1400 staff in 42 settings. It is 67% employee owned and is aiming for 100% within 10 years. Its nursery facilities are of a high standard with 47% of them graded as outstanding by Ofsted when the sector average is about 12%.

The Childbase Partnership endorses an inclusive ethos ‘we all contribute, we all benefit’. Ownership is via a trust with an internal share market. They operate a partnership board which consists of 50% staff as well as external executive directors and a representative from the family that owns the remaining shares. They operate an employee led Partnership Council which has implemented changes to pensions and payment dates, embarks on staff engagement programmes and attends the main company board meeting twice a year.

The company believes that with employee ownership, more people are committed and are more likely to go the extra mile. Employee ownership encourages people to contribute ideas, take responsibility, solve problems and cope with change.  In a survey, 88.5% of staff agreed that employee ownership makes a positive difference.

Employee ownership in the Childbase Partnership encourages employees to communicate openly and honestly about the company, which breeds mutual trust.

Communications approaches the company utilises include:

  •         Bright ideas – individuals get paid for bright ideas that contribute to the running of the company
  •         Staff conferences and quarterly partnership meetings
  •         Magazines and intranet communications which feature HR stats and updates from the Managing Director
  •         Annual roadshows (42 a year)
  •         Encouraging wide ranging career development opportunities to allow staff to create a ‘career of choice’
  •         Awards and recognition on a regular basis.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the increased worker engagement has been highly successful – the most highly engaged nurseries in the group are the venues with Ofsted ‘outstanding’ and 100% occupancy rates. Share prices between 2000 and 2011 have risen from £0.40 to £1.18.

Childbase is engaged in a growth strategy that incorporates new builds and taking over existing businesses. The induction process for staff is easier in the new build nurseries but the induction process is becoming easier for staff in purchased nurseries as they know who Childbase are and have a better idea of what to expect from the culture of the company.


These five examples demonstrate the employee ownership and well planned employee engagement can drive business growth. Employee ownership can be more than just an exit strategy – it can be a means of growing a business and increasing job security for every employee.

How do you measure the impact of community co-operatives?

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A photo of the launch event for Community Co-operatives in Wales

The report was launched at the Saith Seren community run pub, in Wrexham, last Friday (November 16th)

Following the publication of our new ‘Community Co-operatives in Wales’ report, our Chief Executive, Derek Walker, looks at measuring the impact of such businesses:

When we started publishing our four reports on the co-operative economy in Wales at the beginning of this year  we already knew co-operatives added value to communities and jobs and growth to economies. We wanted to demonstrate that a co-operative approach was an alternative, but valid, way of doing real business. When we exhibited at the recent International Co-operative Alliance Expo Trade Event in Manchester recently with some of Wales’ most successful co-operatives, it was apparent that the organisations attending were there to do business: to make new contacts; pitch for new business and to grow.

Our most recent report is published this week. ‘Community Co-operatives in Wales – Ordinary people doing extraordinary things’ looks at the range of ways in which co-operative approaches are helping Welsh communities.

In our country there are over a hundred community co-operatives. They come in all shapes and sizes and are found in almost all parts of Wales. Some are large – Wrexham Supporters Trust which owns Wrexham Football Club has more than 2,000 members, whilst  others such as new co-operative Grwp Adfywio Dinas Mawddwy, which was created to purchase a retail outlet and turn it into a community resource, are relatively small. Community co-operatives can provide a wide range of services from pubs and village shops to childcare, training, food and retail and even renewable energy.

Our research shows that community co-operatives offer economic, social and environmental benefits to their communities and to Wales as a whole, because they bring together people who are committed to their community to deliver services that their communities need.

Community co-operatives offer the best of both worlds.  They are businesses, so they trade and have to think about their costs, prices and markets.  But they also have social values, trading fairly and responsibly for the good of everyone.

Co-operatives provide jobs and income.  In the Afan valley, the Glyncorrwg Ponds co-operative employs seven people directly and 23 people indirectly in a community where a third of the population of working age claims an unemployment related benefit. The facilities developed and managed by the co-operative make a massive contribution to the growing tourism industry in the area. Further west, Carmarthenshire Country Markets gives people in the area access to high quality, local produce. It also provides a market for local food-producers and crafts-people.

Community co-operatives can have environmental benefits. Community co-operative shops reduce the number of journeys made by car, while community food co-operatives reduce food miles, reduce the amount of packaging used, and discourage food waste. In Pembrokeshire, Cwm Arian Renewable Energy is developing renewal energy generation capacity in the communities of Hermon, Y Glog and Llanfyrnach.  Forty per cent of the income generated will be used to increase the energy efficiency of local households, twenty per cent will be used to support investment in low carbon social enterprises, with the balance being used for reducing the community’s carbon footprint.

Community co-operatives are not just in it for their own benefit. Many support groups in their locality and generate spin off activities as a direct result of their work. Gwynfi Community Co-operative makes donations to local community groups and supports local schools. Rhuddin Housing Co-operative in Kidwelly has set up a community supported agriculture scheme and opened up areas of woodland to the public. This ‘re-cycling’ of profits is an important approach for developing community assets.

Whether it is bringing old buildings back into beneficial use, providing vital services or being the ‘glue’ that holds the community together, community co-operatives are proving to have a significant role in community cohesion across Wales.

So how do you measure the benefits of co-operative approaches in communities? It is difficult. Metrics such as jobs created and training opportunities have a real value but as our report demonstrates each of these organisations delivers value above and beyond their raison d’etre.

As one respondent noted in our research, his project consists of ‘Ordinary people doing extraordinary things’. But his project is not unique. This report has given us an insight into the extraordinary amount of people and projects across Wales which are having a massive impact across their own communities and their own economies. How do you accurately measure that?

You will also find a version of Derek’s article in today’s Western Mail.

Written by Mark Smith

November 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm

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