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What is a co-op

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The Bell Inn, Bath

Many of us have heard of co-ops, but do you actually know what one is? High street convenience stores are the most well-known type of co-op here in the UK, but they're not the only type of co-op.

What is a co-op?

A co-op is a business or organisation that’s owned and controlled by its members, to meet their shared needs. The members can be its customers, employees, residents or suppliers, who have a say in how the co-op is run.

Every co-op across the world shares the same co-operative principles and values.

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Guide to co-ops

Read our handy guide, which explains in simple terms what a co‑op is (and why they're so great).

Cover of A Guide to Co-ops
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How is a co-op different from other types of business?

Co-ops are owned by the people closest to the business, not distant investors only interested in a financial return.  These are typically the workers, customers or local community. This means co-ops focus not just on making a profit, but how they made it and what they do with it to bring value to their members and community.

What kinds of businesses are co-ops?

All kinds of businesses operate co-operatively. There are co-operative pubs, energy suppliers, taxi firms, bookstores, community gardens, wine sellers, farmers and sports clubs. There are housing co-ops, health care co-ops, co-operatives of actors, musicians, technology co-ops – and much more.

Co-ops are resilient
76% of new start co-ops survive their first five years compared to 42% of other types of business

Why are there not more co-ops?

With all that’s going for co-ops, why aren’t there more of them? In 2020 less than 1% of UK businesses are co-ops.

Although co-ops are nearly twice as likely to survive the first five years as other types of business, just not enough are being started at the moment. 

This may be due to a lack of awareness and understanding of co-ops in communities and among entrepreneurs, workers, businesses, policymakers, and those who advise them.

Co-ops often go against established ways of doing things. Starting and running a co-op is much harder than it should be, as most support is usually geared to mainstream types of business. 

Co-operatives UK works with and on behalf of our members to make it easier to start and grow co-operative enterprises.

There are 3 million co-ops around the world, with 1.2 billion members.
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