Young digital workers lead a surge in co-operatives

A growing number of young people are joining forces and forming co-operatives in the digital and creative industries, according to a new report from Co-operatives UK.

The number of start-ups among digital and arts organisations increased by 28% last year, accounting for just more than 10% of all the co-operatives started in 2016.

According to the report, there are around 7,000 co-operatives in the UK, with a combined annual turnover of more than £36bn a year and employing 226,000 people.

‘Collaboration is natural in the creative industries and perhaps unsurprisingly we’re seeing a rise in the number of people – particularly younger people – forming co-ops,’ said Co-operatives UK secretary general, Ed Mayo.

‘From artists to web developers, they see co-ops as a way to maintain their creative independence while having the security of working with others.

‘As the gig economy becomes more common and digital skills increase, we expect to see more and more creative co-ops emerging,’ he added.

The report highlights the case of the web development company Outlandish, which converted to a worker owned co-operative in 2016, in order to harness the ideas and skills of the great people working there.

Outlandish has developed websites and apps for organisations like the BBC, the Open University and the National Union of Teachers, as well as helping establish the Co-operative Technologists network, which aims to promote co-operation as a way to create decent work and get better results across the digital industry.

‘The whole tech industry is driven by collaboration, open source software and agile thinking. It’s only natural that young creative and technical people would want to work in way that prioritises the needs of users and workers instead of shareholders,’ said Outlandish founder member, Abigail Murphy.

The report also found there are now 97 co-operatives in the health and social care market, with a combined annual turnover of £131.1m.

And there are now 685 housing co-operatives with a turnover of £639.1m.

The report also highlights the work of Leeds Community Homes, which aims to tackle the issue of spiraling property costs by buying and building 1,000 affordable homes in the next 10 years.

Last year, it raised an initial round of capital through a community share offer, with 270 people investing £360,000 to allow the co-operative it to buy its first 16 flats.

‘There has been a lot of talk lately about how to tackle the housing crisis,’ said one of the co-operative’s founders, Rob Greenland. ‘But the solutions are nearly always top-down, not community-led. We plan to create housing ourselves by buying land, building homes, partnership with developers and renovating empty properties.’

Mr Mayo said co-operatives offer a ‘practical way to reimagine an economy in which people have more control over their homes, work and local areas’.

‘It’s no surprise we’re seeing a spike in interest in co-ops, whether it’s social care providers finding that a co-operative approach can give its users and workers a voice, or young designers and web developers seeing co-ops as a natural way to collaborate at work,’ he added.

  • Read the report here.


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