Southern Co-op gets ready to celebrate its 150th anniversary

The retailer was formed in 1873 as Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society, by dockyard workers fighting exploitation and poverty

Southern Co-operative, the Portsmouth-based independent retail society, marks its 150th anniversary on Friday (24 March).

Launched on 24 March 1873 as Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society, the society now operates stores in  Berkshire, Bristol, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, London, Somerset, Surrey,  Sussex and Wiltshire, and has nearly 140,000 member owners.

Currently known for its local branches of the Co-operative Food and the Co-operative Funeralcare, it started off with just one store in Portsmouth before gradually growing to 62 grocery branches in 1939 and to more than 300 outlets in total today.

It also owns a natural burial ground in West Sussex and crematoria in Hampshire and Devon, and has franchise partnerships with its Welcome stores and Starbucks.

The society’s first store in Charles Street, Portsmouth
Joining gifts for the original Portsea Island Co-op
Deliveries from the Portsea Island Co-op bakery
An early Co-op store in Portsmouth

The society was originally formed by dockyard workers tackling exploitation, inequality and life-threatening poverty. Its founders set out “to develop our society until it is capable of supplying the wants and bestowing financial and social benefits to all people residing in the district and thus benefit the community as a whole”.

CEO Mark Smith said: “Our communities are still at the forefront of our purpose, alongside long term sustainability plans which include ambitious climate action goals and programmes that tackle food waste and support nature recovery.

“Sadly poverty remains a very real threat to our society, so together with the support of our colleagues, members, customers and partners, we are doing all that we can to build stronger, more resilient communities, helping the most vulnerable within our communities. 

A temporary check office for society dividends
Southern Co-op takes the self-service route
PIMCO milkmen waiting to set off on their morning rounds

“This includes support for food banks, community fridges and pantries, as well as hyper-local charities who are making a huge difference to people’s lives, helping us to create greener, safer, healthier, more inclusive communities.

“We’ve faced many challenges over the last 15 decades, but I am proud to lead a successful business that provides essential services to local communities across the south, all the while helping to create a fairer society and more sustainable world.”

Southern says it retains “a purpose beyond profits”, and provides employment for around 4,500 people across branches of its retail and funeral services, its Welcome franchises, free Bereavement Care service, Starbucks franchises, crematoria and natural burial grounds.

Co-op dividend stamps which replaced the half-yearly divi payment in 1970
The society’s Winter Road store in Portsmouth
The annual Festival of Co-operation at Portsea Island
The society’s Funeral site in Fratton in the 1970s

Silena Dominy, director of corporate affairs, who has worked at Southern for 32 years, said: “From the very start, the co-operative had the people’s best interests at heart as they created a system where profits were put back into the communities they served – whether that was through jobs, or community activities, or education.

“Across the 30 years I’ve worked here, I’ve seen a huge positive change in the organisation but all of those things are still important today as well as ensuring that sustainability is embedded into all areas of our operation.”

Today, Southern Co-op is an amalgamation of what were separate co-operatives in Winchester, Farnham, Aldershot, Camberley, Alton, Andover, Basingstoke, Aldermaston, Shanklin, Cowes, Petersfield and Bognor.

To find your nearest Southern Co-op branch, visit