Liz McKenzie, the Manager Director at Just Services Limited takes part in this month’s feature, and explains why it is that she chose the co-operative route.
What does your co-operative do?
We work mainly with older people in residential care, people with learning difficulties / disabilties and disabled people to enable them to have a stronger voice in their services and in life generally.
We do this through advocacy, and a variety of support services via seminars such as enabling people to write about their experience and to enable others to understand life from their viewpoint.We also train professionals, eg through the advocacy qualification and through learning seminars.
We have a quirky side in that we also publish a magazine and book about tea! ‘Tea Magazine’ features articles & news items from Margaret Thornby and guests.
What is your role and how long have you worked there for?
I am the Manager Director and have worked at Just Services since it was set up in 1999; I am one of the founder Directors.
Why did you choose to run as a co-operative?
The two founder Directors had a strong commitment to working co-operatively and saw this as a key aim in all we do. This led us to the conclusion that running the business as a co-operative was a natural part of this and would demonstrate, in our structure, who we are and what we stand for.
What do you enjoy most about working in a co-operative?
Sharing the good and bad times and having responsibilty for all that we do. We can make decisions ourselves, without long delays or going through layers of management and we know we are responsible for those decisions. Being part of a co-operative doesn’t mean we are vague or disorganised in what we do, as some people may think of this way of working. We have a clear structure, with designated roles but share the responsibilities of the co-operative both financial and operational.
We are able to develop skills and abilities in our members and to discuss issues fully. When something goes wrong you are not alone and when something goes right everyone gets credit for it. There is a strong sense of working together as a team and not letting team members down.
Do you have any particular success stories you would like to share with us?
In the last three years we have gone from being a co-operative with two founder Directors to having one founder Director (one having retired successfully), two relatively new Worker Directors and three Advisor Directors. Our Advisor Directors are people who use the services that we offer and this has given us a greater and more direct input into the organisation from the perspective of people who use our services, as well as social care services. Just Services has grown and strengthened through this.
In the last year, we have become an Approved City and Guilds Centre to deliver the national Advocacy Qualification. This is very important to us in that we highly value advocacy in terms of a voice for people using services. We have established partnership working with another organisation for this and to run a series of learning seminars that focus on the lived experiences of people using services or experiencing a specific ‘condition’ such as epilepsy.
We have begun to provide services for people using Personal Budgets, such as travel training. We have set up a working partnership and had a small grant to run “Working it Out” – a project enabling disabled people into work/volunteering and supporting social enterprises to provide work opportunities.