Bristol-based film studio Aardman, best-known for animations Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, has transferred into employee ownership.

Founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord have transferred the majority of Aardman’s shares into an employee ownership trust, which will hold the shares on behalf of the employer’s 140-strong workforce. The aim is to ensure that Aardman remains independent and to secure the creative legacy and culture of the organisation that has been built over the last 40 years.

Law firm TLT advised on the transfer. Ben Watson, partner at TLT and leader of its employee ownership team, commented: “[We] are delighted to have been able to support [Aardman] in the move to employee ownership. The employee ownership model not only helps to ensure independence for the business, it also shares the rewards with the people who contribute to its success. “With Aardman’s co-founders looking to the future, giving control of the business to its highly creative and long-standing workforce was clearly a very suitable and positive way to move forwards.”

The employee ownership trust, effective from 5 November 2018, is being run by a trustee board, made up of independent appointments and representatives selected by the workforce and the organisation’s board. David Pester, TLT’s managing partner, has been appointed as chairman of the trustee board. Aardman’s senior management team will remain in their existing roles and will form the organisation’s executive board. Sproxton will continue as managing director and Lord will stay on as creative director.

Sproxton said: “The journey to employee ownership at Aardman started several years ago, prompted by a talk that described a different way of ‘exiting a business’, an alternative to the normal trade sale or [management buyout]. “Our own lawyers, TLT, were also taking a real interest in the subject and this gave me confidence that employee ownership could be a viable option for Aardman. The transition itself, with a multitude of documents to explain and sign, went smoothly.”