Student’s Guide: What is a co-operative? And why start one?

Some of the biggest issues facing us today can only be addressed by people co-operating. This is true at a global level, where climate change and growing inequality...

Some of the biggest issues facing us today can only be addressed by people co-operating.

This is true at a global level, where climate change and growing inequality need people to work together, by recognising that their every day decisions have a big impact on the lives of people they will never meet in other parts of the world.

It is also true at a more local level, where co-operation can provide people with much needed control over their lives, enabling them to access essentials such as affordable quality food, control over their housing and meaningful work.

This need for control is particularly strong amongst students, who often feel at the hands of others. Despite the frequent claim that university is the time when young people live independently, a student’s time at university is often determined by other people – lecturers, landlords, student loans, supermarkets.

Co-operatives offer an alternative for students, allowing them to take control of the big things in their lives.

A co-operative is a democratic organisation run for and by a group of people to provide them with things they couldn’t get on their own. In a co-operative, these people make the big decisions about what it does and doesn’t do, they often do the work of running it, and they benefit from what it produces.

While the term co-operative might make you think of a supermarket (or a bank!) there are in fact over 6,000 co-operatives in the UK. The majority are small organisations, sometimes run by workers, sometimes by volunteers or local people, providing essentials for people.

For most students the big issues facing them are getting hold of affordable good quality food, controlling accommodation and housing, and, when thinking about graduating, getting meaningful and decent work.

Co-operatives can help in all these areas, as this online guide shows.

There are, for example, a growing number of food co-operatives run for and by students in order to get hold of affordable quality food. These range from buying groups in different universities across the UK to a long-standing shop in a student union. The number of food co-operatives number at least 40, though many more are likely to exist.

Student-run housing co-operatives are also beginning to emerge, with students aiming to get hold of their own accommodation and running it for themselves, rather than being at the mercy of landlords and agencies. Whilst there is no existing student housing co-operative in the UK, a number have formed and are searching for the capital they need or appropriate property to buy.

There are a number of recycling and reuse co-operatives, which are renovating old bikes or furniture in order to provide students with affordable essentials for accommodation or transport.

Co-operatives can help – and are helping – students address some of the biggest issues they face everyday.

So, that’s what a co-operative is, and why it matters for students – but how do you start one? First, you need an idea.


Blog: Students for Co-operation by Sean Farmelo

Video: Choose Coop

Or go straight to STEP ONE: the idea

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