Refreshingly different HR

Essential Trading is one of the largest worker co-operatives in the UK. The organisation is as passionate about equality as it is about providing healthy, organically-sourced, Fairtrade food.

When 120 workers have an equal voice, this can present certain challenges for the organisation. Our HR experts have ensured that the co-operative meets its practical and legal obligations, whilst remaining true to its fair-minded ethos.

What were the challenges?

  • A non-hierarchical, co-operative structure comprising a rotating management committee, disciplinary and grievance panels, and a welfare panel to support wellbeing. Workers didn’t necessarily have the skillset or experience needed to address issues effectively.
  • A committed and enthusiastic HR team, but with limited practical and technical HR experience.

Making HR work flexibly

  • Unwieldy policies and procedures had evolved over time and were not fit for purpose.
  • Multiple versions of key documents (such as worker handbooks and contracts) created confusion and inefficiency.
  • Essential had a need for flexibility – to work with HR in a way that is clear and legally compliant, while allowing the organisation to take the time it needs to make decisions in a truly egalitarian way.
The PES HR team are excellent. They are accessible and responsive, and turn things around quickly. As well as understanding our needs, they have a refreshingly direct manner. With PES, we know we’re not just dealing with ‘consultants’. Their dedicated HR experts are a great fit for us.
Ian Eastwood HR team

How did PES help?

  • Our HR team chaired panel meetings in a couple of particularly complex situations, ensuring legal compliance and good outcomes for everyone involved.
  • We streamlined policies and procedures by reviewing and re-writing Essential’s worker handbook and employment contract, consolidating older versions into easy-to-read documents.
  • In a worker co-operative, changes require a majority vote to be passed. We attended worker meetings to explain why this documentation needed updating, to help people make an informed vote.
  • Our willingness to listen and work with Essential led them to appoint us as a retained HR partner. Since then the relationship has gone from strength to strength.


Because PES is a small, local organisation, the continuity of contact has been great. They have worked hard to understand us. Their advice holds us to our responsibilities, but is nuanced enough to reflect our structure and values.
Ian Eastwood HR team

What was the result?

  • By reducing policies and documentation, we saved administrative time and effort for the HR team, helping them carry out their roles more effectively.
  • Our day-to-day coaching and support helped grow workers’ skills, so that procedures run more smoothly.
  • We understand what Essential is trying to do, so our support is pragmatic, common sense and tailored to a very specific set of needs. We  gave professional advice and support while allowing the co-operative’s ethos to flourish.


Can we help?

Get in touch to find out how we can help your business, too.