Growing on 180 years of co-operation

Rapid development of the UK’s co-operative economy is essential for inclusive, responsible growth.

Growing on 180 years of co-operation

As we celebrate Co-op Fortnight between the 24th of June and 7th of July, we’re reflecting on the profound impact of the co-operative business model on the retail and funeral industries and beyond.

This year marks the 180th anniversary of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, the world's first successful consumer retail co-operative. The principles established by the Rochdale Pioneers laid the groundwork for modern co-operatives, demonstrating the enduring value of co-operation. Today, with 771 retail co-operatives in the UK turning over a combined total of £28.5 billion[1], and over 800 co-operative funeralcare locations nationwide[2], we’re recognising the significant contributions of co-operatives to the economy and advocating for continued growth.

Co-operatives are democratic businesses that share power and wealth, creating economic growth that is both people-friendly and planet-friendly. Central Co-op is joining forces with other UK co-operatives to call on political parties to commit to co-operative growth. Co-operatives UK, the national network for independent co-operatives, is leading this campaign, highlighting the unique benefits of the co-operative model and urging the next government to support policies that unleash the potential of co-operatives.

New start co-ops are almost twice as likely to survive the first five years of trading compared to other new businesses[3]. This resilience is rooted in principles like democratic Member control and concern for the community. Co-operatives prioritise long-term stability over short-term profits, reinvesting surpluses into the business or returning them to Members, ensuring financial stability and building strong, loyal customer and Member bases.

Co-operatives significantly boost local wealth and strengthen communities. The Co-operative and Mutual Economy 2023 report reveals that £210 million has been raised through community shares to support and grow community businesses. This investment improves local quality of life and keeps wealth within the community. Co-operatives are committed to responsible and sustainable practices, often leading initiatives to decarbonise operations and create good jobs that reinvest profits into local economies.

Central Co-op is deeply embedded in the communities we serve, actively supporting local food banks, community groups through our Community Dividend Fund, and charities voted for by our Members. By partnering with local suppliers and producers, we contribute to the local economy, fostering a sense of community and mutual support. Our Malawi Partnership, launched two years ago, supports producers and farmers in Malawi by selling products linked to the region, with a portion of proceeds going towards strengthening trading capacity in Malawi.

Sustainability is central to our mission. We’re committed to becoming self-sufficient in green energy by 2030 and aim to achieve net zero by 2040, including creating more net zero stores. We’ve also partnered with FareShare Midlands and Olio to fight food waste and food poverty.

We know that community starts at home, with our colleagues. The well-being and work-life balance of our colleagues is paramount, so we offer flexible working options and support, for example through Wagestream, Workflex, and free access to a virtual GP.

As a co-operative, our Members are our owners, and they help shape the future of the Society. We actively encourage Members to give feedback on how we do things, this democratic structure is at the heart of what makes co-operatives a distinct and powerful way to do business.

During Co-op Fortnight, we’re joining forces with other co-operatives in urging the next UK government to commit to co-operative growth. Rapid development of the UK’s co-operative economy is essential for inclusive, responsible growth. Here’s what we’re calling for:

  • Support for creating more resilient and responsible businesses
  • Promoting the sharing of power and wealth
  • Enhancing livelihoods through rewarding and empowering work
  • Fostering thriving communities
  • Driving a national effort towards net zero
  • Supporting innovative solutions to fix broken systems

As we celebrate Co-op Fortnight and 180 years of co-operation, we invite you to join us in supporting the call for co-operative growth. By committing to co-operative growth, the next government can help create a fairer, more resilient and inclusive economy.

[1] Co-ops UK Co-operative and Mutual Economy 2023 report

[2] ScrapeHero

[3] Co-ops UK Co-operative and Mutual Economy 2023 report