Coop Love

Calverts have been friends of ours for a few years now. It’s a simple matter of respect. We cannot complain about the quality of their work, because they have done some printing for us in the past and it was great. But there is something else we would like to highlight here in particular, because what separates Calverts from many other businesses, is the fact that Calverts is a coop. For us, coops are a little unusual to be fair. We are not used to them. And we do not really understand how they work. However, that is not to say we cannot learn. Longest serving member, Sion Whellans is in charge of new business and project management. He says it is such a good place to work, it’s virtually impossible to get a job there. (No one ever leaves.) We have no reason to disbelieve him, but is that because it is a coop, or just coincidence. Anyway.

Perhaps let’s delve a bit deeper. Founded in 1977, Calverts is a worker co-operative with 12 members. The firm’s assets are owned in common by the workforce, who are paid equally. All members participate in strategic management, and profits are reinvested in the co-operative or used for community aims. Calverts was named in honour of Giles and Elizabeth Calvert, who published and printed many of the millenarian texts and ‘sedicious books’ of the 17th century English revolution (and were frequently imprisoned for their efforts). Their premises were in the City of London, close to Clerkenwell where the modern Calverts had its first premises. They incorporated as an Industrial and Provident Society in November 1977, and the first formal meeting was held at the North Star pub in Finchley Road.

The biggest single weakness of the coop was lack of capital. Calverts was a classic ‘sweat equity’ operation. It was decided to cease trading if all the members could not be on the trade union minimum within six months (they succeeded); apart from some small members’ loans at low interest rates, major equipment purchases were financed through debt (asset finance loans from Close Brothers merchant bank, United French Banks, and further ICOF loans.) This has continued to the present day. Successful and innovative business initiatives in Calverts have come from all areas of the coop. In the early days, skills development was almost entirely ‘on the job’, and members rotated job functions. Perhaps as a result, it has weathered the storm of the current recession, and much better than many of its competitors. Calverts demonstrates that radical ideas around worker co-operation can lead to innovative and successful business, bringing member benefits which other business models cannot equal. It believes the project to build co operation as ‘social brand’ is now an urgent challenge for the wider movement.

More can be found on their website, safe to say Calverts today specialises in printing  high quality literature for corporate, community, government and arts organisations such as the British Museum, Tate, Arup, 3i, and the Royal College of Arts. And so should WE be run as a cooperative? Who knows. It’s almost an irrelevant question. For now at least. But one thing is for sure. Nothing quite beats the smell of ink running through the press, as you walk into a thriving print shop like Calverts!

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Many thanks to @calverts for providing content in this blog.