The Power of We: Co-operatives in the UK

Co-operatives aren’t run for the shareholders at the top, the CEO’s peering down from their lofty tower. Co-ops are run for you and me – they run on...

Co-operatives aren’t run for the shareholders at the top, the CEO’s peering down from their lofty tower. Co-ops are run for you and me – they run on the Power of We.

‘The power of we’ is the theme for this year’s blog action day and co-operatives show how powerful we can be.

This year the co-operative economy outperformed the UK economy for the fourth year in a row, with a growth of 1.5% in 2011 that was twice the rate of the UK economy.

It was here in the UK that the co-operative movement began.

In 1844, 28 men saw the poverty and sickness around them, and wanted to change things. They wanted fair food, at fair prices.

They created the seven co-operative principles that co-ops still adhere to the world over – a set of principles that is the fuel behind the power of WE. Co-operatives are people working together, for the gain of everyone, not the gain of one.

Now the co-operative movement has spread across the world. Here in its home, the UK, even in an economic crisis, it is outperforming the economy, creating better jobs and a better life for its members.

In 2011 the co-operative movement in the UK had 13.5 million members part of nearly 6,000 co-operatives – but why are they so successful?

Co-operatives help their local communities.

The Lincolnshire Co-operative is more than just a shop; it is an institution that has helped the community around it to grow. Instead of hoarding profits, the co-operative pays out community dividends each year – helping to kickstart projects from choirs to sports clubs.

As Ursula Lidbetter, the Chief Executive of the Lincolnshire Co-operative, said: “Our specialism is community.”

The co-op, which has existed since 1861, has over 200 outlets and more than 205,000 members and in 2010/11, the dividend pay-out to members was £4.8m.

In northern England in Manchester, community owned football team FC United are using the big game, to make a big difference.

Phil Frampton, member of FC United said: “We are different in the sense that our football co-op is committed to changing the world for young people in Manchester, its also to show how football can reach the parts which other co-ops can’t reach. Young people who are inspired by football, it can inspire them to change their lives and get involved in co-operation.”

Co-operatives help to save the planet.

88% of co-operative enterprises seek to minimise their environmental impact. In the UK economy as a whole, 44% of small businesses say they have taken no action whatsoever.

Community wind farms such as Westmill and Baywind are providing clean green energy for their members. Westmill has almost 2,500 members and is the first project of its’ kind in southern England.

“Instead of all the profits from local projects leaving the area, they are retained in the community and that can be spent locally. Many community energy projects try to involve local companies and individuals wherever possible, which feeds back into the local economy as well,” explained Philip Wolfe, one of the pioneers of the UK renewable energy industry, also one of the five directors of Westmill.

In Oxford, organic veg growers, Cultivate proved so popular they raised £80,000 in under three months to provide locally sourced food in their veg van across the region.

Co-operatives are big business.

The UK biggest co-operative: the Co-operative Group is also Europe’s largest retail co-operative. Owned by its members, in 2011 it returned £62m profits back to its members and has pledged that by 2013, 90% of primary commodities it sources from the developing world will be Fairtrade.

Co-operatives are run on the power of WE from as small as three members to as many as thousands – a movement that began in the UK in 1844, continues to strive forward in the modern day.

Ed Mayo, the Secretary-General of Co-operatives UK said: “Co-operatives are part of a solution. They provide alternatives to austerity by offering a model of business in which ownership and control is shared. The growth of the co-operative sector helps introduce more diversity and wider ownership into the economy.”


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