Calverts was established as a workers’ co-operative in 1977. It was set up as a professional printshop and design studio by former employees of IRAT Services, publishing arm of the Arts Lab, an artist-activist organisation, after an industrial dispute. In the 1980s Calverts bought their first Heidelberg press, which enabled them to raise standards and wages to get into
the commercial market. They have occupied premises in Redchurch Street in Shoreditch and are now at The Oval in Bethnal Green.

Two women standing in front of wall with posters
Calverts, 1980s. Courtesy of Calverts

Unionisation was always an important principle at Calverts, which had a strong collective ethos from the outset. They also emphasised workers’ control in their co-op. The tradition of deciding what work to take on and what to refuse continues, most recently in relation to work by fracking company Cuadrilla, which was turned down. Calverts maintained the cooperative
principle of job rotation for some time. They introduced phototypesetting by 1984 with photo-litho fonts. By early 1990s, they had full film setting; early 2000 they had full digital printing, so short run pieces became economically viable.

They work with other co-ops and their approach is based on the education principle of helping clients make informed choices and decisions. Calverts is held in common ownership by whoever the members of the co-op are at any time. There is a careful process for bringing new workers into membership.

Two women looking at printed sheet in courtyard
Calverts, 1983. By Vicky Gunn, courtesy of Calverts.

In a practical sense, Calverts is a very much collective-style co-op. There are certain principles behind the way co-ops are organised – that they’re democratic, for one thing, ‘one member one vote’; autonomous, that there’s limited return on capital; that they work with other co-ops; that we’re very into the education principle, and stuff like that. The business is owned by whoever the members of the firm are at any one time. So it’s a different relationship to the firm and it’s a different relationship to each other within the firm, and it’s based on equality, solidarity, equity – the cooperative values.

Sion Whellens, Calverts

People want to work with us because of our ethos and that’s really changed I would say in the last eight years or so because before we were just a bunch of mad old hippies, certainly in the nineties when it was all, you know, ‘greed is good’, and we’d speak to other agencies and they literally would go, ‘That’s not possible!’. Literally I’ve had people going, ‘Your model of working is not possible.’ I think you’ll find it is, you know.

Cherry Haynes, Calverts
Printed flyer 'Calvert's Press'
Calverts flyer, 1980s. Courtesy of Calverts.