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Co-op Fortnight – Ash’s story

“I’m not saying we’re perfect, but we’re radically different…”

For Co-op Fortnight we discussed how being part of a co-op has impacted our lives.. This doesn’t really feel like a story, and that’s probably how a lot of people at Suma feel, because we’re so used to the culture here and things being different that it’s just our ‘normal’. It’s easy to become complacent and forget how good we have it, being part of the largest equal pay workers’ co-op in Europe.

I’m not saying we’re perfect, but we’re radically different. And, for me, Suma has been life changing.

I’ve never had big career aspirations. I studied Art just because it was something I enjoyed and the other option was to stay in my hometown in the middle of nowhere. I spent my degree mainly painting pictures of naked women. No one tells you at 18 that, when you leave Art school with a portfolio of what looks like porn, there’s not a secure job waiting for you. So, through friends of friends, I ended up getting a job doing Artwork (packaging design). Which, believe it or not, isn’t at all creative and is a really toxic industry to be in – Mainly run by middle-class white men who think you should be grateful to have a job that barely pays minimum wage. I stayed in that role for years longer than I should because, everyone hates their job and their boss, right?

When I found out I was getting paid 4k less than a man my age, doing less work than me, I confronted my boss and was offered an measly £300 a year pay rise – No Ta! After years of being expected to work every hour of the day for no extra pay, essentially creating landfill for atrocious brands, coupled with endless sexist remarks and comments like “you’ll not get anywhere looking like that” from men who, essentially, had control over my happiness in the workplace, frankly I’d had enough.

I’d put myself in debt for education and spent years training to get to that uninspiring place where I felt I was destined to be stuck – living for the weekend, moaning about how miserable I was, scraping by on a wage that barely covered the basics. 

Zoe, a good friend of mine, had been working at Suma for years, but I’d not paid much attention, as I was busy focusing on my ‘career’. I had no idea what co-ops were, apart from ‘that shop down the road’, but I knew I had to get out. So I applied for a temporary role in the warehouse at Suma. With no prior warehouse experience, I was fully aware it could be a male dominated workplace and I could be completely out of my depth.

When I got the job, everyone in the studio thought I was MAD. Giving up my CAREER to go and shift some boxes around?! But, honestly, they couldn’t have been more wrong. I ended up absolutely loving it. So much so that I became a permanent member and they’re stuck with me for good now!

I worked in the warehouse for almost 3 years and, since joining Suma, I’ve had so many opportunities to learn, develop and grow in a way that no job has ever given me. Right now, I’m also a sales rep – which being heavily tattooed, is an opportunity I’m certain I wouldn’t get elsewhere. Because tattooed people are all criminals, you know! I’ve driven the reach trucks in the warehouse. I’ve been on the members council and, most recently, I’ve started in marketing. In what other scenario do you get to have all these different roles without leaving your current job?!

I’m getting paid a wage that not only covers the basics, but provides me with a life where I can (sorry to be cheesy here) pursue my hobbies, follow my dreams and feel fully supported by my colleagues too.

Me, my partner Justin and our dog Henk bought and converted a van that we lived in together for a year – something I’d dreamed about forever. Since then, we’ve been able to buy a house and next year I’m taking 2 months off to go back to Justin’s home country of South Africa. Probably best of all is that I’m finally in a place where I’m respected. I have no bosses, just colleagues. I have a voice (a very loud one at that!) and I’m listened to. Everyone has not only equal pay (can ya’ believe it?! EVERYONE!), but an equal say too. Which is absolutely invaluable.

These are all things I have to remind myself not to take for granted. Because, although being paid equally and fairly, having a voice and a say in how your business and your life are run, as well as caring for your community and environment, should all be things that every human has, it really is rare.

The world could be a better place If more people understood what co-ops were and how they have such a massive impact on individuals, businesses and communities. There is a different way to do things, and we are all together better.

Visit the Co-ops UK website and keep an eye on our socials in the coming months to learn more about working at Suma being a co-op and our co-op customers