From constrained to creative. From frustrated to fulfilled. From boredom to belonging. That’s the difference being part of the October Books co-op has made to Jessica Haynes.
Former support worker Jessica originally joined Southampton-based October Books as a volunteer. She says: “My experience within previous employment was often frustrating. I was working in a structure that didn’t foster creativity or make you feel trusted or valued. And I never had the opportunity to improve things in terms of the service we were offering.”
After six months of volunteering – providing a boost to her confidence and a regular routine that helped her manage a health condition – Jessica joined the book store’s collective organising committee. And when previous members were retiring and emigrating abroad, she joined the co‑op as one of four part‑time workers who run the shop.
It’s a business that keeps on developing too – and has received expert help and advice from The Hive – a support programme for co-ops delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership The Co‑operative Bank.
“The Hive’s support has enabled us to embark on a new chapter in the story of October Books and has given us the confidence to be more proactive as a business,” says Jessica.
“We’ve taken on two new employees, one to help with day‑to‑day operations and another to focus on social media and marketing. We’ve also been more community focussed and hosted a number of successful events – and strengthened our links with local connections.”
Along with her follow co-op members, Jess is currently fundraising to buy larger premises for the shop to turn it into a community hub.
“We’ll have meeting rooms at the back for community groups, a private room for counselling and therapies, a large space for events, a communal kitchen and accessible toilets. And we’re hoping to sell the second floor to a homeless charity to provide supported housing. In an age of loneliness and isolation, where many high street shops are struggling, I feel like the work we are doing to provide a community hub and local bookshop is more important than ever.”
So, for Jessica, being part of a co-op has made a difference in many different ways: “Support from fellow co-op members and workers; gaining belief and confidence in my abilities – and an opportunity to stretch myself and try out new ideas. I feel a sense of community – and being part of something that I believe in, I feel like what I do is worthwhile.”