Inspiring co-operative enterprise through education

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Co-op Values

These are the values upon which every co-operative operates. Place your cursor over each one for more information.
  • Self-help
  • Self-Responsibility
  • Equality
  • Equity
  • Solidarity
  • Honesty
  • Openness
  • Social responsibility
  • Caring for others

Co-op Principles

The co-operative principles are internationally agreed guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice:
  • 1. Voluntary and open membembership

  • 2. Democratic member control

  • 3. Economic participation

  • 4. Autonomy and independence

  • 5. Education, training and information

  • 6. Co-operation amongst co-operatives

  • 7. Concern for community

It is important to note that the first three principles must be in place in order for any organisation to classify themselves as a co-operative. For more information follow the link below to the ICA website.

More info

Co-op History: A Timeline

The Fenwick Weavers Society in Fenwick, East Ayrshire, is founded on co-operative principles to promote and maintain high standards in the weaving craft and provide benefits to its members.

Robert Owen takes ownership of the cotton mills of New Lanark in South Lanarkshire and launches a new era of co-operative working. Learn More

The Rochdale Pioneers establish the first modern consumer co-operative by selling basic provisions to workers at affordable prices.
Learn More

Other co-operatives start out as small grassroots organisations in Western Europe, North America and Japan.

Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), forerunner of the Co-operative Group, is established, followed by the Scottish CWS in 1868.

Co-operative News, the world's longest established co-operative newspaper, is founded.

The UK's Co-operative Bank is founded as the Loan and Deposit Department of the CWS.

The global organisation for co-operatives, the International Co-operative Alliance, is founded in London.

The Co-operative College is established in Manchester to promote co-operative learning across the UK and globally.

What is a Co-operative?

"A Co-operative is a business, owned and controlled by the people who use its services and share in its benefits."

A co-operative is formed when people come together with a common need and work together for their shared benefit. By combining their efforts, people gain from one another's ideas, talents, skills and energies. In this way they are able to do things better than if they tried to do it alone.

Play the video below to see how this co-operative is helping a community in Cleveland.

Robert Owen (1771–1858) is considered the father of the cooperative movement. A Welshman who made his fortune in the cotton trade, Owen believed in putting his workers in a good environment with access to education for themselves and their children. These ideas were put into effect successfully in the cotton mills of New Lanark, Scotland. He had the idea of forming "villages of co-operation" where workers would drag themselves out of poverty by growing their own food, making their own clothes and ultimately becoming self-governing. He tried to form such communities in Orbiston in Scotland and in New Harmony, Indiana in the United States of America, but both communities failed.


The co-operative movement began in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe. Back then, many European countries were going through what is known in history as the Industrial Revolution.

Often there would be situations where people with money and power would treat their workers badly and charge them high prices for basic goods that the people needed to survive. Because of this, groups of people came together to form co-operatives so they would no longer suffer at the hands of those in control. By forming these co-operatives they were able to buy goods cheaper and have more control when bargaining for the tools necessary to conduct their affairs.

One such group was the Fenwick Weavers in Scotland who were founded on March 14, 1761 in Fenwick, East Ayrshire. It is said that they began when when local weavers manhandled a sack of oatmeal into John Walker's whitewashed front room and began selling the contents at a discount. Play the video to go back in time and see the founding of the first co-operative

Although many believe that the Fenwick Weavers were the first ever co-operative, the creation of the modern day co-operative movement is widely attributed to the Rochdale Pioneers.

Who were the Rochdale Pioneers?

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was a group of 28 weavers and other artisans in Rochdale, England, that was formed in 1844. The weavers faced miserable working conditions and low wages, and they could not afford the high prices of food and household goods. They decided that by pooling their scarce resources and working together they could access basic goods at a lower price. Initially, there were only four items for sale: flour, oatmeal, sugar and butter.
The Pioneers decided it was time shoppers were treated with honesty, openness and respect, that they should be able to share in the profits that their custom contributed to and that they should have a democratic right to have a say in the business. Every customer of the shop became a member and so had a true stake in the business. At first the co-op was open for only two nights a week, but within three months, business had grown so much that it was open five days a week.

The principles that underpinned their way of doing business are still accepted today as the foundations upon which all co-operatives operate. These principles have been revised and updated, but remain essentially the same as those practiced in 1844.

Co-operatives UK, the co-operative membership organisation, is formed from the merger of three UK co-operative bodies.
Co-operative Development Scotland is launched by the then Scottish Executive to promote the development of successful co-operative enterprise across Scotland.
Co-operatives and co-owned businesses have grown into a global force, supporting the livelihood of nearly 3 billion people - half of the world's population.


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    Why not try...

  • Find evidence in my community of the historical presence of past co-operatives through resources such as the local historical society, friends and family, the school or local library and the internet. Ask local elderly residents to share their past experiences.
  • Share learning with school/parents/community using a range of different media and deciding on the most appropriate content for the audience
  • Make a list of past co-operatives in my surrounding area and in Scotland.
  • Make an informative poster portraying the history of the co-op with drawings/animations of the original co-operators
  • Write and perform a play with my classmates re-enacting the Fenwick Weavers meeting
  • Create a timeline to show when and how co-ops started and how they have progressed