Press release

Rural communities are ‘most co‑operative’ in the UK

The Scottish islands and Cumbria are the ‘most co-operative’ places in the UK.

The Outer Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands have the highest ratio of co-operative businesses to people according to a new report launched today (28 August, 2019). In a rural-dominated top 10 Eden and Allerdale in Cumbria are fourth and fifth respectively.

The list of most co-operative places forms part of the Co-op Economy report – the UK’s most comprehensive examination of the co-operative sector. Produced by trade body Co-operatives UK, it reveals that the nation’s 7,215 co-ops have a turnover of more than £37.7 billion, up £400m on the previous year. And more than 13 million members of co-ops own and have a say in how these businesses operate.

The report also finds that co-operative business model remains resilient, with almost three out of four co-op start-ups (72%) still flourishing after the difficult first five years of existence. In stark contrast, more than half of all new companies (57%) have ceased to exist before reaching that same milestone.

Ed Mayo, Co-operatives UK Secretary General, said: “When needs are so acute in remote and rural areas there’s a necessity and greater impetus for people to work together. There’s strength in being able to rely on others, on being part of a co-op. The model is just as relevant in inner-city Glasgow or central London as it is in the Outer Hebrides. The entire UK economy could learn a lot from the extraordinary success of the Scottish isles and rural Cumbria – particularly in today’s climate.”

Co-ops are organisations owned and controlled by their members. They operate across all sectors, from community-owned pubs to multi-billion pound high street retailers and from the UK’s biggest farmer owned agriculture businesses to supporter-owned football clubs. The Scottish isles’ thriving co-op sector includes community energy organisations, farming and fishing co-ops, community shops and credit unions.

Papay Community Co-operative is a member-owned business on Papa Westray, one of the most northerly of the Orkney Islands. Run entirely by local people, the co-op operates the island’s only shop as well as a 20-bed hostel.

Papay Community Co-operative secretary Tim Dodman said: “It’s absolutely vital for us to have a community shop - a reliable shop that’s competitively priced. It has played a key role in preventing population decline.”

The co-op, whose members are all ‘Papay folk’, serves the island’s 90-strong population as well as Papa Westray’s tourists. “The co-op ethos is very important,” added Mr Dodman. “It’s a sharing model. This is a small island and pretty remote. It’s much better to work co-operatively than have one individual in control of a lifeline service.”

Nenthead Arts and Visitor Centre, in the North Pennines, is one of England’s highest co-ops at around 15,000 feet above sea level. The former chapel was saved by local residents who raised the funds through grant funding and a community share offer.

Sandra Mackenzie, Chair of Nenthead Arts and Visitor Centre said: “Our aim is to put Nenthead on the map as a top tourist destination, attracting visitors to experience the hospitality of our fabulous café, exciting gallery space and dramatic outdoors. The centre is now owned by the community which means we control our own destiny, with members having a stake and a say in how things are run. With tourism making such a vital contribution to so many people’s livelihoods it was important to us that the community is empowered to take decisions about such a valuable asset.”

The Co-op Group is one of the UK’s oldest and most well-known co-ops. Its CEO, Steve Murrells, said: “We are living in fractious and uncertain times where many communities feel disconnected and vulnerable. It is in such a climate where the true value of co-operation can shine through, just like it did in Rochdale 175 years ago. Co-op's are innovative, resilient and inclusive, characteristics the UK will need more of in the years ahead. Our way of doing business has never felt more relevant than it does today.”

The Co-op Economy Report 2019 is compiled by Co-operatives UK, on behalf of the co-operative movement. It reveals turnover, membership and employee figures for thousands of co-op businesses.