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Sheffield Maternity Co‑operative: Inclusive support for mums‑to‑be

Case study

1st September 2022
What is a co-op?
Mum with baby and helper

Created to offer local mothers a better healthcare experience, an ambitious maternity co‑op in Sheffield gives its worker members and staff a better working experience too…

One of a series of case studies produced by Co-operatives UK as part of The Ownership Hub programme, in partnership with the Employee Ownership Association. The Ownership Hub is working with the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to highlight the benefits of employee and worker owned businesses.

Providing advocacy, ante and post-natal education and support, the Sheffield Maternity Co‑operative was established in 2019 and has been a valuable resource for local communities ever since.

Founder member and Coordinating Midwife Phoebe Pallotti set up the service to plug the holes she’d seen in the national healthcare system. “It wasn’t meeting individual and local need,” she says.

“In my experience, the NHS can’t provide individualised care because it’s standardised, so expectant and new mothers often find the options they want aren’t available to them.”

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For us, being worker owned and led is important. It’s central to breaking down health imbalances between healthcare professionals and patients and leads to better care and better experiences for everyone.
– Phoebe Pallotti, Coordinating Midwife, Sheffield Maternity Co-operative

Sheffield Maternity Co-operative offers a range of support services and delivers training for healthcare professionals, particularly in anti-racist care in maternity. It runs groups, advocates for patients and provides breastfeeding support.

“Everyone we support with breastfeeding goes on to breastfeed. We have a 100% success rate,” says Phoebe. “And anyone can call us to get advice. That usually happens when they don’t understand what doctors are saying or aren’t sure about a recommended course of action.

“We oversee care and can advocate for people at the hospital, often when we feel something is missing. Our aim is to make sure care is inclusive and gold standard for everyone, regardless of their situation.

“The maternity unit in Sheffield really like us. We’re on committees and they appreciate the ante and post-natal education we provide. Their patients are better informed and have a better experience as a result.

“We get lots of really positive feedback. People have said we’ve changed their experience, especially those who’ve previously had poor experiences. They feel more supported and more able to advocate for themselves.”

As well as giving patients a better experience, the Sheffield Maternity Co-op makes life better for its worker members and staff too. With five core members and 15 casual workers, the co-op pays a flat rate to everyone in the organisation.

Baby with mother and helper

“We wanted to work in an environment that’s more supportive and tenable for us,” says Phoebe. “So a co-op was the only possible structure. It’s non-hierarchical and we wanted to be free to develop outside the constraints of the NHS.

“For us, being worker owned and led is important. It’s central to breaking down health imbalances between healthcare professionals and patients and leads to better care and better experiences for everyone.

“Our team benefits from a supportive environment and a non-hierarchical way of working. This means people can practice in line with their own beliefs and ethics, rather than set procedures laid down by the NHS, which people may not think appropriate.

“In our organisation, everyone is important and everyone’s wellbeing is important. Our workers bring babies to meetings. You couldn’t do that in the NHS. We’re much more integrated with our family lives and prioritise meeting our team’s needs.

“There’s so much more flexibility, support and integration here. My daughter has been to a lot of ante natal classes!

“I’ve been involved with charities for years, but a co-op was also preferable to us in terms of finance. We wanted to fundraise through grants but also earn cash. There are restrictions with charities that weren’t right for us.”

The ambitious co-op is currently working with a local MP to make changes to medical insurance practices, so that organisations outside of the NHS can provide midwifery services.

They’ve also recently produced a toolkit that any midwife can use to set up another maternity co‑op. “Our next mission is to help other groups establish more co‑ops. We want to help them grow and develop co‑operative ways of working. We think every organisation needs this!”

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