Here in southeast Portland, our local food co-operative draws a dedicated pool of volunteers who keep it in operation. Perhaps because it is only the size of an average 7-11, our cooperative feels like a little community.

Its difficult to imagine something so democratic and personable developing on a large scale.

Which is why The Co-Opertative Group in Great Britain captured my attention. For scale, I don’t know of any rival in this country. Credit unions, perhaps? For resilience, they’ve been around since 1844 and survived a 2013 banking debacle.

If you’ve dreamed of developing a cooperative in your area, The Co-Operative Group might have an approach you’ll find practical. They publish their governance principles here.

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Co-operative Group has its origins in Rochdale, Lancashire. The Rochdale Pioneers Society was famously established in 1844 based upon the notion of ethical trading and belief that the profits of the business should be shared amongst members according to their purchases.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) was formed in 1863 by independent co-op societies, to provide Co-op produced products to sell in hundreds of Co-op stores that had opened based on the Rochdale model of ownership and control.

13 Pioneers photograph of 1865

13 of the Rochdale Pioneers photographed in 1865


It is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer operating across the country with almost 2,800 local, convenience and medium-sized stores.

Amongst its other wholly-owned businesses are the UK’s number one funeral services provider, a major general insurer and a developing legal services business.

The Group also has a minority shareholding in The Co-operative Bank and a joint-venture travel business with Thomas Cook.

As well as having clear financial and operational objectives, the Group, which operates 3,500 outlets and employs approaching 70,000 people, is a recognised leader for its social goals and community-led programmes.

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Our Purpose: Championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities

  • Championing – It’s part of our heritage, taking a stand, making a noise on a small number of social issues which are relevant to our businesses and our members lives
  • Better way of doing business – we need to be commercially successful, building a sustainable way of doing business that is mutually beneficial, recycling our success into strengthening communities. Continuing our ongoing commitment to ethical values and sourcing
  • For You – immediate and tangible benefits for our members and customers who are not yet members. Functional benefits – better prices; great quality; right location; excellent customer service; emotional benefit – feels good and feels right
  • Your Communities – enabling and strengthening communities, being locally relevant and reinforcing reasons why members and customers should be loyal to us

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Our democratic structure

The Co-operative Group is jointly owned by millions of UK consumers who have the opportunity to have a say in how we do business. Member can vote in elections and on motions at our General Meetings, which gives them a direct say in the future of the Group.

For example Members can vote on anything from who should be on our board to motions on how we should change the business. Members can also suggest their own motions to be voted by fellow Members at our General Meetings.

Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis

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