It was with mixed emotions this morning I travelled to my UNISON branch office in Holloway Road, Islington. Volunteers from the branch executive were meeting up to empty the office, since we had given notice to our landlord. As the former branch secretary (and still a member of the executive) I have lots of memories of this office. Many, many good - some not so good but such is the life of all UNISON branch secretaries'.
There is so much stuff to sort out, pack away for secure storage, recycle or securely dispose. The oldest documentation I came across was UNISON guidance on car allowance payments from 1998!
After the pandemic, the branch executive decided that since we had been able to function (admittedly imperfectly) pretty "well", that we did not need to spend £18,000 per year on an office in North London. This money and other traditional administration costs, will be better spent on training, equipment and campaigning. However we all accept, while virtual calls and meetings can be a brilliant way of collaborative working and communicating they are no substitute for "face to face" contact, when such interaction is needed.
The branch covers all of Greater London (and sometimes beyond) and has a membership of over 3000 members who work for some 150 different employers in multiple often fragmented workplaces. We think it is far more effective for staff to work from home (and they are paid a home working allowance) and travel direct to support members at workplaces rather than from a central office.
This reflects how many of us work (not all obviously if you work in estate services or projects) already in the sector. It is not just about spending members subscriptions more efficiently but about providing better services and ability to organise.
We will still hire rooms for staff meetings, training and consultations as well as 121s. All staff have access to UNISON online case work management (hopefully all reps as well soon), emails, mobile phones and laptops. Hybrid Executive and branch meeting will take place. I think everyone is conscious that some workers find working from home very difficult.
This is a radical move for what used to be quite a traditional UNISON branch. It may not work and we may have to think again but I am excited about the prospect of this succeeding. In the meanwhile we have office furniture and equipment to get rid of and decades of files and documents to sort out. I think that before we hand back the keys, we must have a party to celebrate our past and look forward to the future.
Check out my post from 2011 on our last branch office move https://www.johnslabourblog.org/2011/07/farewell-to-crouch-end-unison-office.html
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