Co-operatives are businesses that exist to serve their members, whether they are customers, employees or the local community. They work in all parts of the economy, from food to farming, healthcare to housing, wind farms to web design.
What’s more, these members are the owners, with an equal say in what the co-operative does. So, as well as getting the products and services they need, members help shape the decisions their co‑operative makes.
Co-operatives want to trade successfully – they are businesses, not charities, after all. Co-operative members can often do better by working together, and sharing the profit is a way to keep it fair and make it worthwhile. Rather than rewarding outside investors, a co-operative shares its profits amongst the members.
Across the UK, co-operatives are owned by more than 11 million people – and these numbers keep on growing.
Types of co-operative
There are several different types of co-operatives, with structures and membership rules to suit people or organisations ranging from small groups of workers to large businesses banding together. What they all have in common is their commitment to providing ways for their members to support one another.
- Worker co-operatives are owned and controlled by their workers. Some worker co-operatives are managed on a collective basis, where all workers are members and are also committee members or directors. Other worker co-operatives are managed through a smaller committee or board, elected by and from the employee members. Examples from the creative industries featured on this website include New Internationalist, The Graphics Company, Co-operative Web and Who Made Your Pants.
- Co-operative consortia are co-operatives formed by a number of independent businesses, organisations or individuals, and owned and controlled by them. Members can work together co-operatively to enhance their trade through joint activities such as purchasing and marketing / promoting their services. This approach can save money, spread risk, and enables the participating businesses to pool their resources, provide mutual support and learning while maintaining their business independence. In the creative sector, examples range from Single Cell, The Very People and Word Hoard - all featured on this website - to the huge Associated Press, which is a consortium of over 1,700 newspapers and magazines in the USA which share and market their content, and the world-famous Magnum photographers' co-operative.
- Consumer co-operatives are owned and controlled by their customers. At a minimum, customers who choose to become members are involved by buying from their co-operative, but they can also help to run the co-operative. Consumer co-operatives are rare in the creative industries, although the Community-Powered Reporting movement growing in the USA may suggest ways that consumers could have a role in supporting quality 'bespoke' journalism.
- Community co-operatives are enterprises that are owned and controlled by people belonging to a particular community. This may be a geographical community or people with common interests. Normally they will carry out activities that are of benefit to a defined community. Double Elephant Print Workshop, Fair Isle Crafts and Gloucestershire Printmaking Co-operative are examples in the creative sector.
- Multi-stakeholder co-operatives are enterprises that are owned and controlled by members drawn from a variety of areas. Membership can include employees and users of the co-operative, local residents, partnership organisations or relevant professionals. In the creative sector, Ethical Consumer magazine is a multi-stakeholder co-operative, with both worker members and consumer members.
- Secondary co-operatives are enterprises whose members are other co-operatives. A creative sector example is the Co-operative Personal Management Association, a grouping of co-operative actors' agencies.