David Button, leading light of UK co-operatives takes a bow after 35 years

One of the Co-operative Movement’s leading figures is set to take a well-earned rest after over 35 years of service.

One of the Co-operative Movement’s leading figures is set to take a well-earned rest after over 35 years of service.

David Button, Chair of Co-operatives UK, has stood down after three years at the helm. For the past four years, he has represented the federals (organisations that support or represent members that are co-operatives or mutuals) as a director on the Co-operatives UK Board.

He says: "Although I felt it was time to go, my going is tinged with sadness because I have enjoyed every minute of it. In my time at Co-operatives UK it has really developed as an organisation, particularly in 2012 when we were able to set out our stall and put on lots of events to celebrate the International Year Of Co-operatives.

“I feel that in the past few years we have really grown in our ability to provide a quality service and our staff have done a fantastic job."

Since David took over in 2010, the number of co-op businesses in the UK has grown to over 6,000, owned by some 15 million people and sustaining more than 250,000 jobs with an impressive turnover topping £36 billion for the sector.

As outgoing Chair, David says he is very proud of what has been achieved at a time when many enterprises have been going to the wall. “It’s good to look at the statistics because they show you just how much we have grown in the past few years despite a very difficult economic climate.

“What we have had to do is grow the co-operative economy as much as we could and ensure the option is there because more and more people are interested in the co-operative model.

“Co-ops are commercial, as well as ethical enterprises, and we have had to try to get on board people who are not yet convinced that we can run things as well as the private sector. If you look back at the last few years you can see the way in which co-ops have grown because more and more people are seeing it is a better way of doing business."


David has over 35 years experience of all forms of co-operative and social enterprise development within the UK as well as spending over ten years as a senior consultant for the Department for International Development and the World Bank in Central and Eastern Europe.

He is a past director and financial controller of the government-backed Food from Britain, where he had responsibility for co-operative development within the UK. He still works as an associate consultant for European Food and Farming Partnerships LLP advising on agricultural collaborative development.

David is proud of the increasing diversity of Co-operatives UK, which now offers advice to a vast range of initiatives from small online co-operatives to community-based credit unions, a growing number of housing co-operatives, as well as farmers’ markets and many agricultural social enterprises.

David adds: “In the past few years we’ve also branched out into energy and an increasing number of co-operative schools. We are growing right across the board in terms of the number of producers we serve."

Other highlights in his time as Chair have included the successful Making Local Food Work programme, supporting hundreds of food community enterprises across the UK. Another big success is Co-operatives Fortnight, co-ordinated by Co-operatives UK, which since its launch in 2010 has gone from strength to strength. Now running till July 6, this year’s initiative focuses on raising consumers’ awareness and understanding of the diversity and benefits of co-operatives.

David has also been able to build on his long relationship with the Plunkett Foundation; a past Chairman, he was made a fellow in 2009 and still provides informal support and guidance when asked.

One outstanding issue, which he has been closely involved in, is the proposed separation of the Co-operative College from Co-operatives UK to reflect its changing role both nationally and internationally. Talks are still ongoing following a widespread consultation and final plans were discussed at Co-operative Congress in Cardiff.

David adds: “The discussion is still ongoing, but there is clearly significant support for setting up an autonomous body so we will see what happens at Congress and then take things further working with the governors and trustees to put the final proposals together.”  

Now aged 66, David is looking forward to spending more time at his home in East Sussex where he lives with wife Vera. He has three grown-up children and two grandchildren and says he will enjoy the chance for more time with his family

“It will be nice to take things easier, but I won’t be disappearing altogether. Looking back, it has been a fantastic time to be involved and I am proud to have been very much involved in the business of going forward and promoting the co-operative way of doing things. I’ve been lucky to have had a fantastic team totally committed to improving our organisation and our development as a provider of quality service. We have also been able to re-negotiate with our main funders like the Co-operative Group to ensure our future.

“I don’t like to use the word capitalism, as I’m not particularly political, but I do think people have lost faith in the way things have been done previously and are more ethically-minded these days which means we have been able to have a much greater impact."

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