Kate Bull is the straight-talking CEO of The People's Supermarket, a not-for-profit cooperative based in the heart of London on Lamb's Conduit Street.
The business only has 20 full-time employees. The rest of the labour is provided by volunteers. To get involved, wannabe members have to pay £25 and pledge four hours a month to the store. In exchange, they get cut-price produce and a say in the way the business is run.
This system has its benefits and pitfalls. There are currently 1,100 members involved in the project. On the one hand, this ensures a steady stream of innovative ideas and skills. On the other hand, Bull has to deal with a new 'great idea' every four hours when someone else comes on shift.
Members come from all walks of life and some even hail from miles outside of London. Everyone still does their bit, however. Long-distance volunteers tweet and keep up The People's Supermarket Facebook page. Disabled members tidy the shelves with their carers. It's an entirely democratic and open system.
Nonetheless, Bull is keen to stress that The People's Supermarket is still run like a business. Despite being non-for-profit, it receives no discount on rent or rates and has to pull in £7,800 a month to stay afloat. For Bull, this means endless sleepless night and analysis of the the figures. It's a far cry from her old job as a commercial executive for Marks and Spencer. Yet The People's Supermarket is going from strength to strength, pulling in a £1m turnover in its first year.
In this interview, Kate Bull explains how she has created a community around food, the importance of marrying ethics with business sense and why no two People's Supermarkets will ever be the same.
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