Birmingham Bike Foundry is more than a repair shop. It’s part of a thriving co-operative community in the Stirchley area of the city, with an upstairs room that brings together local people for a range of activities. A worker co-op born of a passion for co-operation, it has inspired other co-ops to start up on the same street.
Together, these co-ops will celebrate Co-operative Fortnight from 24 June to 7 July by (add activities here).
Founded in 2010 by a group of four people who’d already set up a housing co-op, Birmingham Bike Foundry also sells parts and refurbished bikes – and is involved in cycling activities across the city. But the inspiration for opening a bike shop wasn’t down to the founders’ knowledge of bikes.
“After starting the housing co-op, the founder members wanted to set up a workers co-op. They decided to repair and refurbish bikes because it aligned with their thinking – it’s a sustainable activity with low environmental impact – and there weren’t that many good bike shops in the city,” says worker member Sean Farmelo.
So with a set of principles, a lot of passion and zero bike expertise the co-op was created. With a grant from Awards for All for mechanic training, a willingness to learn and a determination to operate fairly, and ethically – the co-op’s members have worked hard, developed their skills on the job and grown a thriving business. They’ve also become a local hub that provides more than bike repairs.
Sean and his fellow worker members are union members too, and offer workplace advice to anyone who needs it. With space above the shop they’ve put to good use, the co-op has also hosted English lessons for Kurdish refugees; they teach bike mechanics to students from autism specialist schools, and hold a weekly Thursday evening Tool Club.
“For £15 a year, people can come along, use our tools to fix their bikes and get advice from us,” says Sean. “I went there when I was a student, saw a worker co-op in action and realised co-ops are a great thing – and I got involved with the Birmingham Bike Foundry through that.”
The co-op has been an inspiration for other local businesses to adopt the co-operative model. “Nearby Loaf bakery and Artefact café were set up as social enterprises that converted into worker co-ops,” Sean says. “The influence of having the bike shop showed there was a different way of doing business.
“Being a co-op lets us take control of what we’re doing so our activity isn’t dictated by profit driven targets,” he adds. “And being part of a local community is so rewarding. We can see that we’re doing good. So getting together with other local co-ops to support Co-operative Fortnight is the perfect way to celebrate the difference we all make.”
Find out more at https://birminghambikefoundry.org.