We decided to write this as we are often asked how we are run, as it is quite different to many other organisations. We also like to keep transparent, so here we go!
RARA is a cooperative. This means that RARA is owned and run by its members, who are all users of decisions made in the best interests of the space and its users.
Legally we are set up as an IPS (an Industrial and Provident Society). This legal form contains statutory protection of the co-operative principles – for example, one member one vote – and is designed to enhance democracy and protect the rights of the members.
Our aims as an organisation are written into our ‘primary rules’ (a legally binding set of rules all IPS’s have), and we are obliged to try to fulfil them. Our aims are:
- To provide affordable workspace and equipment for creative purposes.
- To act as an agency, distributing received work amongst our members and wider network in order to support their creative practice.
Not everyone who uses RARA is a member. Membership is open to anyone who has been using the space on a full time membership for over 3 months, and wants to agree to the conditions and responsibilities of membership. If someone does not want to take on that responsibility and continue to use the space, they are free to do so, but they do not have control of the business.
Every member is a director and holds a nominal share of £1. This means everyone owns an equal amount of the company.
Every month the members meet to discuss the running of RARA, for example what equipment to buy, changing of rules, discuss whether to take on new projects or ventures. Almost all decisions do not come down to vote and are decided by an informal consensus. In the event of consensus not working (which has never happened), we have rules about voting in place.
RARA does not have any staff at this point. All duties are carried out by members or by freelancers/contractors. There is nothing to stop us taking on staff in the future. This means that we are not a worker co-op, but a co-op consortium – a collection of individuals working together under an organisation for mutual benefit.
If a member leaves, or decides to stop being a member, they cannot take ‘their share’ of the assets. They remain in the ownership of RARA. They are only entitled to their nominal share, £1. Otherwise there would be nothing to stop a brand new member leaving the next week with ££££’s of RARA’s stuff/cash.
If RARA ceases to exist, for whatever reason, it is written into its rules that its assets (e.g. our tools, equipment and any money we have in the bank) will be passed on to another similar organisation (with similar rules about passing on assets). This stops the incentive for the members to quickly grow RARA only to cash out when it becomes more valuable. We hope that this will keep the organisation fulfilling its aims and supporting its members and their creative projects for many years to come.
This might all sound quite complicated but this legal setup protects the organisation and keeps it sustainable. Now it’s all been written, most of this does not come in to the day to day running of the space.
If you are starting a similar collective we would recommend not getting too bogged down by all of the different possible structures at first – you can always change later. RARA started as an offshoot of a limited company before it became an independent cooperative.
Being a cooperative has its advantages and disadvantages, which we can write about another time. We have found that for us, it is a system that works on the whole pretty well – we’re still here at least. RARA is in many ways an ongoing project – an experiment in to new ways of organising.