Socially Enterprising: COPE and soap (and a whole lot more) provide work for 45 in Shetland and Orkney

What’s the name of your company and who owns it?

My name is Ingrid Webb and the company is COPE Ltd and we are based in the Shetland Islands and Orkney. COPE Ltd is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity, making it a social enterprise.

When was it set up?

COPE Ltd first began in June 1998.

What’s the company’s aim?

We aim to provide people with a learning disability the opportunity to work or gain employment skills within a variety of business settings. COPE Ltd currently operates five business units including the Shetland Soap Company, the Shetland Kitchen Co, the Shetland Garden Co, the Shetland Home Co and Orkney Soap.

What did you do previously?

Before I joined COPE Ltd in 2012 I was working within a non-government organisation in Australia where I managed a large disability service in the South East Queensland Region. I also had the opportunity to work in the organisation’s quality team, working with managers across the state to promote best practice in their respective regions.

Why be a social and not a private enterprise?

Throughout my career I have always been passionate about the rights of people with learning disabilities. So often they are undervalued and services rarely meet each individual’s needs. I saw that through social enterprise people with learning disabilities could have the opportunity to work as part of a functioning and successful business, making high quality products, thus contributing to the local area’s economy and being valued for that. That’s core to everything we do at COPE Ltd. Social purpose is paramount. That’s the difference between social enterprise and private business. It’s not all about profit.

How many staff/volunteers – and what did they do previously?

We have around 45 staff who come from a variety of backgrounds. Some from retail, some from social care, some from commercial settings, we even have someone who has a PhD in boat-building. Variety is great and we find we employ people who are a good organisational fit, rather than coming from a specific background.

Who are your main customers?

As we run a variety of different business units, our customer base is different for each. We value them all and work hard to ensure that we are meeting their needs. Exceptional customer service is very important to us and is something we are always working on.

Tell us about your best trading experience?

We provide all the soap for the cabins on the two large ferries that go overnight between Shetland and Aberdeen each day. We have an excellent relationship with the provider of these services, Northlink. Their support for COPE Ltd is very strong and we have enjoyed a long and respectful relationship with them. We are very proud of that.

And the worst?

We try not to have bad trading experiences and to be honest I can’t think of something that’s bad. We hold our relationships with our customers very dear and therefore I think we reap the benefits of that.

And what are your future plans?

Over the next three years, we plan to continue to grow our organisation and achieve greater financial sustainability. We want to do this by identifying target markets, exploring and adopting innovative strategies, including the use of digital technologies, to attract new customers.

COPE Ltd aims to achieve these objectives through maximising opportunities for all business units. Particular growth potential has been identified within the Shetland Soap Company and growing the customer market on the Scottish mainland and beyond.

For more information, go here www.cope.ltd.uk

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