A member-owned producer of craft ales in Portrush, Northern Ireland, the Lacada Brewery is a much-loved local business with a sense of community.
What is now a thriving, world-class brewery had its beginnings some 40 years ago when a 16-year-old Laurie Davies began making beer in his shed.
Cut to 2014 – after studying history, living in a rural commune and running a shop – Laurie eventually decided to return to his passion of brewing beer.
“I’ve always been influenced by collaborative working,” he says. “I spent summers helping out on my uncle’s farm in Cornwall. There was always a sense of togetherness."
“I’ve also lived in a commune. And while studying history, I read about co-operatives at the time of the Spanish civil war. So when I decided to start a brewery, I hit upon an idea – why couldn’t it work as a co-op.”
After much research and planning, support from a co-op hub and several local meetings to bring likeminded people on board – the Lacada Brewery co-op launched a community share offer and began trading in 2015.
It now has nearly 400 members – some of whom sit on the co-operative board that strategically steers the business. Being able to offer employment opportunities and trainee positions is a key objective for Lacada Co-operative. For Laurie, being part of a co-op is great for business and great for the community.
“Our members are our secret army that promotes the brewery, just from co-ownership alone. And ever since the peace, people have wanted to be part of things where there aren’t boundaries, where they’ve got a common interest. People love being part of that community.”
Lacada’s membership also comprises local home brewers who contribute to the creation of new ales – and have helped the co-op become a top-rated, prize-winning brewery.
“They are constantly seeing all the trends and brewing all different styles at home,” says Laurie. “So that’s been an advantage to us. The innovation is there because of our co-operative structure. Some our of best-selling beers have come from that.”
But like any enterprise, Lacada has encountered challenges and has needed to adapt to stay in tune with the market. So, in 2020, to re-invigorate the business, it sought help from The Hive, the co-op business support programme delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with The Co-operative Bank.
The brewery received 10 days’ consultation from Hive Provider Tiziana O’Hara. “The goal was to restructure the board and connect better with the members,” says board chair Erol Bucukoglu.
Tiziana carried out a governance health check on the business to look at structure, policy, accountability, stakeholders, membership participation and clarity of roles. “Tiziana produced a report that gave us a list of actions we needed to take to evolve as an organisation,” says Erol.
“The most important was re-structuring the board and training board members. From this, we created several subcommittees and reached out to members to join them. Those subcommittees now take on work that fits their skills, freeing up the board to be much more strategic.”
For Erol, the help from The Hive was invaluable. “We went through a big change – from making bottled beer to selling it in cans. And that has happened very smoothly because of the changes we made to the board. We had the right people making the right decisions.”
With one of their best years of business yet, the Lacada Brewery is already seeing the benefits of the changes they’ve made. “Our margins are better, our meetings are much shorter and our board members are much happier,” says Erol.
“We’re a completely different business to what we were two years ago. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the support from Tiziana and The Hive.”