UK’s leading co-operators collaborate with national charity to grow the co-operative movement

A new network, led by national charity, Plunkett Foundation is bringing together co-operative retail societies to boost the resource and expertise needed to help the growth and resilience of the rural community-owned business sector.

Community-owned businesses are an increasingly popular form of co-operative that encourages local communities to work together to save much loved assets and services, such as a local village shop or village pub. Plunkett is the national organisation that offers bespoke business advice free of charge to those rural communities looking to set up and run a community-owned business.

The practical business support for community-owned businesses is at the core of what Plunkett does, and the more than 750 businesses Plunkett has supported to open represents 10% of all independent co-operatives in the UK.

Yarpole Community Shop

"This Shop is Community-Owned and Run by Volunteers"

Invermoriston Community Shop

Celebrations from the team (left - right) Stephane Pilli , Stella Barter, Jackie Buckley, Hilary Wilson, Paul McIntosh, Lynne West and Julius Prakelis with his daughter, Renesme. Photograph by Iain Ferguson, The Write Image

The network has 3 core aims:

  1. Raise an annual financial contribution towards Plunkett’s free community business service which would be used to support start-up and existing community-owned businesses (co-operatives).
  2. To utilise Co-operative Retail Societies’ knowledge, expertise and networks for the benefit of smaller community-owned businesses (co-operatives).
  3. To convene to explore practical ways of supporting community-owned businesses together or independently.

Inspired by Principle 6 of the International Co-operative Alliance, Plunkett initially approached Co-operative Retail Societies with an invitation to engage with this collaboration given the importance of enabling the transfer and support of co-operative expertise between large and small co-operatives.

Since the start of 2022, the support of the network has helped Plunkett to support 53 new community business groups to open and provided nearly 6,000 hours of support to the community business sector.

Plunkett’s CEO, James Alcock said,

“The support of the UK’s co-operative retail societies is of vital importance to enable us to provide greater access to bespoke business advice that will help the co-operative sector grow and go from strength to strength.

We are incredibly grateful to every co-operative supporting this initiative so far and welcome a conversation with those interested in joining us!”

Founder member, Pete Westall, Chief Values Officer at Midcounties, said,

“Being part of this new network means we are playing a lead role in ensuring the right business support is reaching rural communities embracing the co-operative model as a solution to the challenges that they face.

Supporting this new initiative has enabled us to not only play an active role in delivering co-operative advice more widely, but to also achieve even more impact against our strategy. We are proud to be part of a collaboration that promises continued innovation and exchange of co-operative knowledge.”

Given that the majority of Plunkett’s focus is on co-operative businesses involved in the production, processing and retailing of food and drink, Co-operative Retail Societies are fundamental to the success and growth of the rural community business network and in helping new start community businesses to flourish and become more resilient trading businesses.

Members of the network to date include Midcounties Co-operative, Central Co-op, Southern Co-op, Radstock Co-operative, The Co-operative Group and Co-operatives UK. Participation remains open and Plunkett welcomes all conversations with UK co-operators with an interest in supporting this initiative.

– Ends –

For media information & images contact:

Chris Cowcher, Head of Communications – 07507 602724 or

Who are the Plunkett Foundation?

What are community businesses?

Community-owned businesses are a recognised co-operative model with democratic and open membership that trade for the benefit of their wider community. There are over 750 rural community businesses open and trading in the UK, including shops, pubs, cafes, breweries, distilleries, woodlands and food growing and farming businesses. They are widely recognised for the wider social benefits they bring including creating employment and training opportunities, improving wellbeing of local residents and reducing loneliness and isolation.

What business advice does Plunkett provide?

Plunkett’s core business advisory service is free and comprehensive and provides business advice from start-up through to trading. It includes business advice on:

  • Community engagement and consultation, business planning and financial forecasting
  • Legal structure and governance
  • Advice on community shares and fundraising
  • Compliance with trading legislation and regulation

Partners involved in the network:

Co-operatives UK (

Co‑operatives UK is the voice for the UK’s thousands of independent co‑ops. It supports co‑ops to start up and thrive and offers access expert advice, events and training.

Contact: Dominic Mills, Communications and Marketing Manager –


Midcounties Co-operative (

Midcounties are the largest independent co-operative in the UK with gross sales over more than £1bn. Their heartlands are in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Wiltshire and Worcestershire, with a trading presence in the surrounding counties.


Central Co-op (

Central Co-operative is one of the largest independent retail co-operative societies in the UK, with a heritage stretching back over 175 years. With over 440 trading outlets, a family of around 7,700 colleagues, and more than 330,000 regular trading members, they are always looking to make a difference.

Central Co-op trades across 19 counties including East and West Midlands, Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, ranging from food to funeral, floral, and property investment.

Their vision is to be the UK’s best consumer co-operative by making a real difference to our members and our communities.



The Co-operative Group (

Co-op is one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives with interests across food, funerals, insurance and legal services. Owned by millions of UK consumers, the Co-op operates over 2,400 food stores, over 800 funeral homes and provides products to over 5,000 other stores, including those run by independent co-operative societies and through its wholesale business, Nisa Retail Limited.

Employing almost 60,000 people, the Co-op has an annual turnover of over £11billion and is a recognised leader for its social goals and community-led programmes. The Co-op exists to meet members’ needs and stand up for the things they believe in.

Contact: David Knight, Community Business Partner (Delivery), Community and Member Participation Team –

Southern Co-op (

An independent co-operative based in the south of England, Southern Co-op is owned by its members and has a purpose of working together for the benefit of its communities. With a commitment to sustainable business, in 2022 it was presented with the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise and Sustainable Development. Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2023, Southern Co-op has nearly 400 food, funeral, franchise, burial grounds, crematoria and Starbucks coffee branches as well as a food and drink range dedicated to local producers.

Contact: Emily Radley, Press and PR Officer – /


Radstock Co-operative (

Radsock Co-operative’s Vision is to be the best community retailer, growing the business for the future and considering co-operative principles in everything they do.

They are one of the few truly independent co-operative retailers and sit at the heart of the communities in which they serve across their retail estate. They are totally committed to meeting the needs and wider aspirations of their members, customers and the people who reside within their trading area. Established in 1868, the Society currently comprises of twenty-one convenience stores, post office services and a 1,000 acre dairy farm.

Social responsibility is part of the fabric of their organisation which has its roots based on the founding principles of the co-operative movement.

Contact: Nikki D’Ovidio, PR & Communications Specialist

Amberley Community Shop

The Plunkett team volunteering at Amberley Community Shop - "The Shop on the Common"

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