Social Cooperative “Haven” is presented in CesR project as one of the examples of good human resources management in rural areas. This Cooperative offers a range of services in Myślenice County (673.3 km², population ca. 123 000), which is a rural area in Małopolska Voivodeship in Southern Poland. Main tasks of the Cooperative include providing catering, maintenance and housekeeping services on daily basis in three local schools in Raciechowice Municipality (61 km², population approx. 6 000 residents). Other activities include food catering services to local residents and employees of local companies, and the same services for meetings, conferences and events. The members (employees) of the Cooperative also operate a guesthouse (20 beds), with kitchen facilities and conference room. They also actively participate in cultural life of the region, especially by cultivating local and regional tradition.
In 2011 the Municipality had some problems with financing the operation of several kitchens in local schools planned for the following year. It meant that 18 persons would lose their job in the next few months. Those persons (mainly cooks) were skilled only in that field, as they had been working in the same position for many years. In some cases these people were the only employed persons in their families. For a municipality of approximately 6 000 residents, it meant a big problem: additional unemployed persons meant extra costs for the Municipality and decreased number tax payers.
According to the national legal framework, municipalities are not allowed to carry out any sort of commercial activity. Instead of outsourcing catering services after public procurement (which would be an easier solution) the Municipality authorities decided to establish a social cooperative. Volunteer Fire Brigade from Kwapinka village joined this idea and both entities created a social cooperative which allowed them not only to maintain work places but even to create some new jobs by converting a closed school into a guesthouse with various facilities for tourism purposes.
This public-private initiative allows children from three local schools to enjoy traditional meals that have been prepared and delivered by employees of “Haven” since January 2012. Every day they prepare more than 400 meals. Meals are also delivered to employees of local companies and to ordinary residents, mostly older people (approx. additional 40 meals daily). The Cooperative uses specially adapted vehicle to deliver the food. Moreover, various companies or individuals organizing meetings, conferences and events in the area, may also order catering services from “Haven”. The prices of catering services and food are very reasonable (e.g. soup PLN 2.50 [€ 0.60]; main course PLN 7.50 [€ 1.80]). Catering is often ordered by individuals for their private celebrations or for pickers in the orchards during the picking season. In addition, the employees of the Cooperative provide maintenance and housekeeping services in the three local schools, including: cooking (in the morning) and housekeeping/cleaning (in the afternoon). The working day starts at 6 a.m. and finishes at 2 p.m. In case of extra hours (catering during different events, working at tourist accommodation facilities), the employees are paid extra.
The Social Cooperative “Haven” currently employs 18 full time employees and additional 6 persons contracted for specific tasks. All these employees got a chance to return to the job market and the possibility of professional and social activation and stabilization. Cultural activities prepared by the Cooperation are important both for cultural life of the municipality and for good relations and trust between employees and local population. Social effect is very important, as members of the Cooperative feel accepted by the public authorities and by local residents: together they discover the importance of team-work cooperation and responsibility. Members of fire-brigade help the Social Cooperative members with cleaning, mowing, collecting garbage and in other demanding works, whereas Social Cooperative members help firemen to prepare their events and celebrations.
Since April 2012 the Social Cooperative also manages a guesthouse in Kwapinka village, located in a renovated old school building. The guesthouse is situated in a quiet and peaceful area, has five guest rooms with private bathrooms, equipped kitchen and a conference room with multimedia equipment. Outside the building, its users may enjoy a multifunctional playing field with artificial turf, playground, pergola, barbecue facilities and a roofed stage. Tourists may choose between self-catering, Bed & Breakfast option, half-board or full-board service, or they may order a full refrigerator at the moment of check-in. The employees of the Social Cooperative also offer their services in helping tourists to organize their activities in local area (walks, biking) offering guided walks in the surrounding hills (some of the members are licensed mountain guides). They also organise meetings and different events (i.e. conferences, courses, birthdays, weddings). In certain months the Cooperative’s income share from tourism services reaches 30%.
Accommodation services operated by the Cooperative support the development of tourism in the municipality. In general, the number of tourists increases, but there are still periods with very few visitors. The target customers are groups of tourists, as it is more economical and easier to organize their stay, housekeeping and other services (e.g. catering). Approximately a half of the guests are participants of meetings and events, while the other half consists of family with small children and other tourists. Marketing the tourist services is based mainly on the Internet and leaflets; however the best way of promotion are recommendations of former visitors/clients. When the guesthouse is fully booked, tourists are offered another accommodation in the Municipality, which increases the cooperation and good relations between the Social Cooperative and other entities providing tourist services.
At the very beginning, funds from the Agency of Development and Promotion of Cooperative Movement (project INES – Infrastructure of Social Economy in Małopolska Region) helped the founders of Social Cooperative “Haven” to educate themselves in the rules of social cooperative business. The Agency also provided valuable advice during the process of setting up and registering the organization. The resources gained from the Regional Centre of Social Policy in Cracow (Regionalny Ośrodek Polityki Społecznej w Krakowie) were used for furnishing the guesthouse and two kitchens. Project “Equipping the work-stand of unemployed person” enabled the Cooperative to gain funds from the County Employment Agency in Myślenice (seat of the County). These funds were used to purchase a cleaning machine and create another job (one person was employed). Another person was employed by using the funds from RESTART project (European Social Fund, one of the five European Structural and Investment Funds – ESIF) set up to activate people aged 45+.
During the last 3 years the success of the Cooperative is noticeable. The number of ordered meals is stable and even shows an increasing trend, indicating that consumers are satisfied with the food and that the pricing policy is reasonable. A few new jobs have been created after establishing the Cooperative. The number of tourists is increasing, as well as the use of various services provided by the members of the Cooperative. Also the number of study visits to Social Cooperative “Haven” increased: there is a great interest in transferring the knowledge (know-how), and at the same time visitors become direct users of Cooperative’ services.
In the future, “Haven” plans to expand its services, find the new markets, create additional full-time jobs, establish closer cooperation with other cooperatives and purchase new equipment (mostly for kitchen in order to prepare food faster).
The Social Cooperative “Haven” is a great example of cooperation between a local community, non-governmental organization and municipality self-government. This good practice demonstrates that establishing a social cooperative may:
- provide direct benefits for many various members of local community
- result in creating additional jobs in rural areas
- reintegrate unemployed people with the society and create healthy relations
- help local tradition to survive (cultural activities of the cooperative)
- increase economic activity in the local area
- support tourism development in the local area
- become a new source of income for non-governmental organizations
There are several conditions for successful transfer of this practice:
- national and local legislation should be adjusted to facilitate establishing social cooperatives;
- support of local government;
- human capital: engaged people treating cooperative as their own company;
- trust among the partners;
- local understanding (local residents should also perceive the cooperative as beneficial for them, to avoid competitiveness support cooperation and the use of services offered by the cooperative);
- the funds from different agencies are very helpful, especially during the kick-off period and for infrastructure (buildings/ renovation/ equipping);
- flexibility of employees, as the provided services are very diverse and must be performed by the same persons (cooking, housekeeping, tourism services).
If the food catering services for local school are already organized, there are numerous fields for introducing this kind of operation. The networking with other cooperatives is important (sharing experiences, management or even employees), as well as cooperation with competitors (i.e. informing tourists about other accommodation/services and vice versa).