EOA Network Focus: North

By Rory Ridley-Duff, Reader in Co-operative and Social Enterprise at Sheffield Business School

I’m proud to facilitate the EOA North Network, which has a really strong representation of businesses interested in employee ownership (EO) – both those in their first few years since transitioning and wanting to learn more, as well as those who have experience to share.

Sheffield Business School, and my colleagues within it, were instrumental in launching the Network in 2013 and I find it rewarding that my research supervisors and mentors, myself and now my students have all benefitted from researching Employee Owned Businesses (EOBs) since the 1990s.  We not only speak to them informally through the Network but also engage with them during our research activities.

There’s a real posse of enthusiasts who drive the Network, some of whom have a distinctly revolutionary mind set. What’s also striking is the variety of EOBs who attend. These range from professional service providers, to mutual/public service spinouts and pioneering manufacturers rooted in the traditions of northern industry.

These include companies such as hi tech manufacturer Gripple, Swann Morton which exports surgical instruments all around the world, and School Trends – the UK’s leading provider of custom made uniforms for schools.  I am grateful to School Trends for contributing substantially to my own PhD study on the cultural development and legal structures needed to enable EOBs to practice participatory employee-led governance.

The North also has a vibrant social enterprise network that provides good support for mutuals in the region. Five of these feature in the UK’s Top 50 employee-owned companies.

The Network meetings draw people from every sector. Representatives from universities can meet legal professionals, managers and employee representatives from EOBs and those looking to make the transition. In our meetings, the host organisation usually shares some learning from their story of EO. At Sheffield’s Gripple, we had a tour from the very engaged and engaging staff, and at Catalyst Choices in Warrington we were greeted by wheelchair users and their carers dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

In our Network meetings, we often use Open Space Technology to explore issues after listening to presentations planned by a small steering group. Over the years, I have been struck not only by each host’s story, and issues raised by businesses in the process of transition, but also by the growing passion and inspiration of members who are developing EOBs, and who are gradually realising that EOBs contribute to a movement that brings about creative social change.