"I’d had some pretty interesting jobs before, but I’ve never felt the same sense of purpose and engagement. The whole organisation of the business is radically different."
"As workers, we have greater control over our conditions, greater freedom to influence organisational changes, and an active say in strategic decisions that impact on our day to day lives."
Like so many people, Kellie Bubble always wanted to work for an organisation that she could believe in. So when Unicorn Grocery opened in 1996, a worker co-op selling affordable, fair and sustainable food and drink, she was excited.
“I was a customer from day one, I just loved what they were doing. It was great to see people creating something positive rather than just talking about how bad the world was.”
Not surprisingly, Kellie joined Unicorn Grocery soon after - and has been a worker owner there ever since. “Unicorn was building a practical model seeking more just and sustainable trade with workers ownership at its heart, what's not to like.”
Like everyone at Unicorn, Kellie’s job is a mix of practical and strategic, leading the work on the business’s brand some days, working on the shop floor on others, taking strategic decisions about the business or moving bags of flour about on a pallet truck.
“I was a customer from day one, I just loved what they were doing."
And since joining at 29 years old, the co-op has grown. Formed by just four people, it has now grown to 70 employees and a turnover of more than £7.5 million. From its shop in South Manchester, Unicorn sells an incredible range of affordable, fair and sustainable food - the kind that was niche back then but is mainstream now.
The co-op’s worker members carefully source the produce they sell while they also commit 4% of their wages to support activities overseas that allow other people to take control of their livelihoods and 1% for projects which share their vision of community and society in the UK.
But despite its growth, Unicorn retains its soul. “We are caretakers of our co-op, we are here to nurture it for future Unicorn members, not to take what we can in the short term. There is a sense of being part of a bigger community with an important history.”
For Kellie, co-ops offer a better way to run a business. “Worker co-ops are not for everyone, but if they were a standard model in society overall wellbeing would definitely increase. They are not structured to focus blindly on success equalling profit and the multiple bottom line of people, planet and profit is much more fulfilling.”
“We are caretakers of our co-op, not to take what we can in the short term."
“When people feel they don’t have the power to make a difference, co-ops are an example that you can take control of your workplace, that you can do things a bit differently.”