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Co-operative architects putting equality into action: McCaren Design

Case study

15th November 2020
Co-op development
McCaren Design Team

After operating as a limited company for nearly two decades, Plymouth based architecture firm McCaren Design became an employee ownership trust on 1 June 2020.

It was a journey that began in 2018, when directors Andrew Paterson and Hilary Kolinsky decided to align their business model with their core value: equality. “We were seeking to have a company structure that reflected our desire for our employees to be on an equal footing,” Hilary explains.

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We see the value of our team and believe the company belongs to them too. They have a valuable contribution to make to the future success of the business. Without the co-op structure, they wouldn’t be able to make that contribution.
– Hilary Kolinsky, McCaren Design

McCaren Design carry out work for residential developers and commercial businesses, as well as third sector organisations. Projects span social and sustainable housing and heritage. “We enjoy working with our community, co-ops and social enterprise clients. We take a very holistic approach and share similar values and principles”, says Hilary.

“Plymouth has set out a strategic plan to double the local co-operative economy in Plymouth by 2025 and we look forward to being part of this growth and partnering with more social enterprises in future.”

The Hive support helped Hilary and her colleagues to transition to employee ownership. Their support provider, Chris Crookall-Fallon worked with them for six months. He facilitated some round table discussions that helped to move the transition along.

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“Chris raised questions, enabled us to have honest conversations and resolve any concerns. He explained the different co-operative business models – and wrote a report that helped us understand the options available to us.
– Hilary Kolinsky

He also met with employees and they had an opportunity to talk through anything they didn’t want to raise in front of us in the first instance. The Hive’s help was really valuable and supported our path to employee ownership.

Several employees became directors when the firm transformed. They now have five directors and one employee – and everyone has a chance to have an equal say in how the firm is run.

“It’s in our five-year plan to become 10 to 12 people. We’ve structured it so that the directors are accountable to our Employee Council. As we grow and more employees join, their interests will be represented through the council,” Hilary explains. For her, changing to a co‑operative way of doing business has been a valuable experience that is reaping rewards:

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There’s such a diversity of skills and perspectives, even in a small team – and operating as a co-op gives you a structure to draw on all those strengths and perspectives.
– Hilary Kolinsky

“Everybody has a say on how we deliver and manage projects – and it’s up to them to take ownership of their suggestions. It’s very proactive and creative too. I feel that we are now making decisions from a much broader knowledge base because we have the strength of everybody’s view behind that.” 

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