The co-operative breadmaking business that’s on the rise

At the worker-owned Leeds Bread Co-operative, all employees have a say in decisions – right down to the kind of bread that gets baked. The business model is proving a recipe for success, finds Tom Lawson

When business is going well, everybody at the Leeds Bread Co-operative gets a slice of the satisfaction. Founded in 2012, the worker-owned bakery has gone from making and distributing artisan bread to individuals, to supplying wholesale to businesses across the city. It now employs 21 people, runs baking courses, and – in November 2016 – moved into a bigger unit to keep up with demand.

The team uses organic, locally sourced ingredients to make sourdough and slowly fermented breads, baking six times a week.

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All workers can become co-op members, and members have a direct say in all decisions: from overall business direction and work schedule, to what kind of bread gets made. Worker ownership makes particular sense in an industry where production employees often have little input – or invested interest – in the business.

Baking takes place six times a week and loaves are distributed wholesale to businesses across the city

“From my experience, food and catering organisations are very hierarchical, not very well paid, and tend to come with incredibly stressful, long hours,” says Josh Lawson, administrator for Leeds Bread Co-operative.

There’s a sense of ownership and empowerment. We really want to engage and work with the other people around us in order to be successful

“Here, there’s a sense of ownership and empowerment. We really want to engage and work with the other people around us in order to be successful.”

For founders Simon Garrod and Phil Dacey, a major attraction of the co-operative model was the vested interest employees have in making the business work.

The team makes sourdough and slowly fermented bread using organic, local ingredients

Everyone is paid the same, from bakers who have worked at the co-op for years, to the people who man market stalls during weekends. In comparison, the average pay ratio for the lowest and highest paid employees in a FTSE 100 company is 1:129.

“I’ve come from kitchen work where I was very much part of a hierarchy, but here, there’s more a sense of community,” says Rosie Wilkinson, one of the co-operative’s bakers. “You’re working hard, but you’re all working as hard as each other.”

Video produced by Blake House Filmmakers’ Co-operative


Images: Lisa Errico Photography


This series is guest edited by Vivian Woodell, founder of The Phone Co-op and head of The Phone Co-op Foundation for Co-operative Innovation


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