Four years ago we embarked on a journey of change, pioneering a new model of working and reshaping the traditional landscape of a theatre company. Instead, we opted for a flat structure, equal pay and flexible working conditions; Here, we introduce the Chol-Operative. 

We are a powerhouse of seven women who decided that we wanted to redefine what it means to run an arts organisation, rejecting a conventional structure and formalising the culture in which we were already working. In the Chol-Operative, we break free from the limitations of a traditional hierarchical model and follow our desire to eliminate barriers that prevent people from working in senior positions in arts organisations. Remote working, part-time hours, or even bringing your baby into work—our doors are wide open to flexibility at every level. The Chol-Operative was launched in an effort to increase transparency, growth, and agility, steering the organisation towards a stronger collective power and an infinitely more impactful creative space. 

The Chol-Operative has been built on our ethos of co-creation and culture of care; working in the Chol-Operative is underpinned by our shared drive to understand and challenge inequity in all aspects of the way we run our company and deliver our creative programme. Our culture of care flows through every interaction, whether that’s with children in the classroom, communities in the Cholavan, or colleagues in the workplace. The Chol-Operative values every individual, and creates opportunities for personal and professional growth; sharing responsibilities for the running of the company has created a dynamic environment where learning new skills is not a challenge, but a natural progression. Co-creation has become our guiding principle, ensuring that the responsibilities of an Artistic Director, CEO, or Producer are shared, leading to a more effective and innovative creative process. We encourage everyone to contribute to strategic decisions, which are often easier to make, and quicker, with no line management or red tape to get through in order to get things done. 

Working in a flat structure brings with it plenty of benefits, both for the core team and external stakeholders, providing us with a space where everyone’s voice is not just heard, but valued and respected. There is a wider understanding and recognition of how much each individual person brings to the company, allowing us to share and learn from each other whilst celebrating the diverse spectrum of thoughts and ideas and experiences within the team.

‘There was excitement around the idea that we all do different things in the company, we all do different things really well. And why should some of those things be paid more or have prestige? Like talking to the Arts Council? Why does that have more prestige than being a fantastic facilitator in a community setting, which is the bread and butter of the company?’ – Vicky Storey

But with great change comes great responsibility. Recently we have been doing a lot of reflecting about our structure, revisiting our initial thoughts during the transition and really interrogating how we run. We would be lying if we said it has been an easy road; but our shared understanding and wish to stay responsive, flexible and attuned to the ever-changing dynamics that naturally take place within companies, means that the challenges only make us stronger as we embrace the strength and potential in collective power. 
The Chol-Operative, like the world around us, is constantly evolving. As we grow and overcome each challenge we have encountered the Chol-Operative matures and moves forward. We use these challenges as stepping stones, each one carrying us closer to where we strive to be as an organisation, paving the way for a more inclusive, collaborative, and innovative future in the arts sector.

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