Members of the South West’s creative industries came together in Bristol last week to find out if setting up a co-operative was a good way of launching or growing a business.
Creative Co-operatives, organised by Co-operatives South West and supported by Co-operative Futures, gave businesses from the region’s thriving creative scene a chance to network, strike up lasting working relationships, and learn about the co-operative business model.
Explaining the co-operative model to delegates, Jim Pettipher of Co-operative Futures, which helps co-operatives in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire get off the ground, said: “It’s about how you trade and what you do with the money. It’s a democratically-run business in which no-one can buy influence by holding more shares than somebody else.”
And Ed Russell, of Co-operative Web, a worker co-operative with a £1m annual turnover, which is owned by its 21 employees, said: “Co-operative is a different way of doing business. It’s still a business and we still have to make a profit, but everyone gets an equal say in the way the business is run, and a fair share of the profits.”
Annie Warburton of Skillset – which provides training and support to creative businesses – talked about Bristol’s thriving creative sector, which ranged from big institutions like the BBC and Aardman Animations to micro-enterprises.
She revealed that the creative industries were one of the most important sectors of the UK economy – generating seven percent of the nation’s wealth – and that Bristol and Bath were two of the UK’s 10 creative innovation hotspots.
The seminar heard from three businesses in the creative industries about their experiences of operating under the co-operative model.
Jon Tan from website designer Analog Co-op told delegates how forming a five-man co-operative had helped him and his colleagues compete for big contracts against larger competitors.
Freya Miller and Tortie Rye of Snap Studios said forming a seven-person print makers co-operative had helped them to buy and rent equipment and premises that the would not, individually, have been been able to afford.
Jim O’Shaunessy of Forest of Avon Wood Products said forming a co-operative had brought a diverse group of woodland businesses, including wood turners, sculptors, hurdle makers and furniture makers together to share the costs of creating, marketing and selling their products.
And Jim Pettipher, wrapping up the event, led a workshop to demonstrate how different businesses could use the co-operative model to buy and sell goods and services to and from each other, either as customers, or suppliers, or both.