Co-operatives and the co-operative movement

This section introduces you to co-ops – what is a co-op and what is the co-op 'movement'?

What is a co-op?

Definition: Co-operatives are simply trading enterprises owned and primarily run for the benefit of their members, who have a trading relationship with the co-operative.

  • Co-operatives are businesses owned and democratically controlled by their members, who can be customers, workers, suppliers, tenants, producers local residents, users of services or a combination of these stakeholders.
  • Members have an equal say in how the business is run.
  • Members choose what to do with profits, whether distributing among members, reinvesting in the business or giving to the community.

A more formal and concise definition of a co-operative, by the International Cooperative Alliance: “A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

There are currently some 7,000 co-operatives across the UK. They range from multi-billion pound businesses to small community enterprises, and work in everything from healthcare to housing, renewables to retail, sports to social care. Together they contribute £37bn to the UK economy.

The co-operative model is flexible. It works in sectors across the economy and can be organised in a range of ways. It enables businesses large and small to thrive, gives the people closest to the business a stake in it, harnesses their ideas and as a result boosts productivity. It is a tried and tested business model.

Updated: 16/12/2019