We’re jamming, we hope you like jamming too

Jez Abbott
Monday, April 23, 2018

Next year the grey suits might give paintballing a miss and instead head to Calverts in Shoreditch for a spot of alternative team building.

The Bethnal Green print co-operative, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, hosts public open days for clients and students and is keen to extend its reach into the corporate world. For now, however, Calverts is sticking to its tried-and-tested best.

The 13-staff co-op has been hosting the open days – or Paper Jams, as it likes to call them – for five years. As well as second- and third-year art and design students and clients, these jamming sessions attract print buyers, web and graphic designers, illustrators and local authority procurement officers. It is sales and marketing director Arthur Stitt who wants to push beyond print-related fields. 

The challenge

But before that, there’s plenty of people closer to the professional home of Calverts who need bringing up to speed. Students and colleges are major clients of the co-op. There are six arts-based colleges in the area demanding coursework and books, prospectuses and final-year catalogues. The trouble is many students, tutors and procurement people don’t quite grasp the art of print.

“We have found over the years that people don’t understand the ins and outs of print, even down to basic areas such as supplying files,” he explains. “Maybe it’s to do with the digital age, but we saw a chance to educate, not just existing and prospective clients, but also the next generation of printers and graphics-based professionals,” adds Stitt, with an echo of the co-operative’s founding spirit. 

Calverts was formed in 1977 when five printers from the Institute for Research in Art & Technology (IRAT) were made redundant and instead of taking payouts asked for printing machinery. They set up a workers’ co-operative called Calverts North Star Press – a nod to its first formal meeting place, the North Star local pub, and Giles and Elizabeth Calvert.

The husband and wife were printers during the English civil war, producing radical Parliamentarian tracts. Giles Calvert was executed, his wife Elizabeth carried on the business, and all those years later the former IRAT printers carried on their legacy. Today Calverts remains a one-member, one-vote organisation with each staff member earning the same, the London average salary. 

A non-hierarchical management system, means any money is reinvested back into the business and there are no outside shareholders. This way the co-op reinvests in kit, currently including a Heidelberg Speedmaster, two Konica Minoltas and a Risograph press. Calverts turns over around £1m, but needs to market itself. Paper Jams are a crucial part of that marketing strategy.

“As with everything we do, our marketing is ethical, and Paper Jams are integral to the plan. The bedrock of our marketing is as much about holding the co-operative in trust for the next generation. So much of what we do is focused on educating younger people. However, because a lot of our work is with colleges, this is a good way of getting in front of the decision-makers for print orders.”

The method

Paper Jams involve free two-hour workshops at Calverts’ base with anything up to 10 students, tutors and other customers learning the art of printing. Stitt teaches the print- professional freshers the different methods such as litho, digital and screenprinting, as well as binding and cover finishes. He whips out samples from his “little black box of tricks” to show paper effects and textures.

“Such a practical, hands-on approach is important because we have found print, art and design people communicate better through visual and tactile means. We used to find it hard to describe what we needed via email or phone. Communicating became protracted, time consuming and inefficient. We hit on the workshop model, and it worked.”

These days Stitt has a roster of tutors and college heads from the likes of Central Saint Martins and Camberwell College of Arts. But he also makes new contacts from LinkedIn or from flyers put in college refectories or art and design departments. Students also pass on the word via social media, which has given Calverts plenty of “social media currency”.

Though most Paper Jams take place at Calverts, Stitt also visits colleges where he can prime up to 30 students on the basics of printing. For this, he makes a small charge, but has found students often feel more comfortable, less intimidated, on their home territory and therefore interact more. As well as print- focused workshops, Calverts tackles more specific subjects.

Sustainability workshops for example are particularly popular, and chime with Calverts’ ethical stance: the co-op boasts ISO 140001 and FSC accreditations and uses biodegradable inks and recyclable printing plates. Though workshops are hands-on and jammers can see the Heidelberg Speedmaster and Konica Minoltas in full swing, they are kept away from the kit.

Hosting any kind of public event involves health and safety issues and insurance. Calverts has strict, and carefully monitored, health and safety procedures. But Stitt insists for a well-functioning printroom, health and safety doesn’t have to be too complicated, requiring a little forward planning. Ultimately, he says, “it’s about being conscientious and applying common sense”. 

The result

Calverts recently took its message to students at University of West London where it regaled graphics’, fashion and communications’ undergraduates on how different papers, binding methods and finishes could lift their creativity to new, better levels. The university, like others, is a regular customer, ordering note books and end-of-year catalogues.

Beyond the college circuit, Calverts has used its Paper Jams as part of lengthy tendering processes to try and win over print-buying panels. It recently went for a job at a London borough looking for design work: when Stitt’s team came before the tendering panel they offered a free Paper Jam as part of its proposal, and won the job. 

“Paper Jams are great for two things: educating younger people about print and winning work. One-off jobs for individual students aren’t big money spinners, but we’ve won much larger jobs from workshops.”

The co-operative ethos of Calverts also goes down well with many who regard it as a respite in a world of global corporatism, says Stitt, who was not one of the modern-day founders from the 1970s. He was however among their first generation, joining in 1984 after serving a letterpress apprenticeship in Belfast then moving to a collective community in south-east London that put him in contact with his future employer. 

Now he is looking at expanding Paper Jams by zeroing in on those corporate employees tired of paintballing team-building exercises.

“We have a plan and it involves corporations. Maybe their staff no longer want all the traditional team building exploits and would rather focus on something more creative than paintballing. At Calverts they could not only learn about print, papers and binding, but could create prints for their office walls or greetings cards – perhaps a more constructive use of colour than paintballing.” 

Vital statistics 


Location Bethnal Green, London 

Inspection host Arthur Stitt

Size Turnover: about £1m; Staff: 13

Established 1977

Products Fairtrade teaching materials, low-carbon travel guides, art and science comics and books for co-operatives, charities, artists, galleries, illustrators and photographers 

Kit B2 Heidelberg Speedmaster 74, Konica Minolta bizhub Pro 1100, Konica Minolta 224, Risograph press 

Inspection focus Hosting events for the public


Be clear what you want to achieve from the event and who you want to attract – you must have goals in order to measure success 

People need to know what is happening, so think about who you are targeting and how best to reach them – how will you publicise your event?

Think of co-hosting an event to provide more expertise, a bigger pool for resources and a greater number of potential attendees

Decide on your “look”: all materials should have a consistent theme and share similar design elements that highlight the message of your event

Put someone in charge who is responsible overall for the execution of your plan and establish regular contact with customers

Minimise the chance of something going wrong through risk assessments and maybe taking out public liability cover


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