Plymouth leading the way with cooperative economy


Plymouth City Council is the first council in the country to commit to doubling the size of its cooperative economy – helping local people to take more control of jobs, livelihoods and to keep more money in the city.

More organisations owned and run by their own staff and customers could be set up in Plymouth – signalling a return to the city’s cooperative’s roots.

The city had its first cooperative way back in 1859 which was set up by Charles Goodenew, a shoemaker in Bretonside.  By 1918 a host of shops, dairies, and butcher shops all worked together as cooperatives supplying local people with the goods they needed as well as ensuring money made stayed in the city.  Even Nancy Astor was a member of the Cooperative Womens’ Guild.

Now the Council is hoping Plymouth’s residents will look to how businesses ran in the past to help shape those of the future. Councillor Chris Penberthy, Cabinet member for Housing and Cooperative Development said:  “Cooperatives have grown up with Plymouth. They have been part of our economy for generations and we think they have a part to play in helping more people.

“By investing in the economic wellbeing of people in this city, we can help keep them in work, create better services and keep more money in Plymouth. It’s not just about money in people’s pockets, they have a say in how things are run.

“We have some incredible examples here in Plymouth – CaterEd, which is owned and run by 67 schools and the Council not only supplies thousands of meals made of fresh, local and organic ingredientsthey have been instrumental in keep kids from being hungry over the school holidays. Their work is supporting families all over the city.”

There are 23 co-operative enterprises based in Plymouth with a combined turnover of £18.6 million and membership of over 9,500 people.  The city’s fish market is run as a cooperative for instance – and it is incredibly successful.

In the city’s travel to work area there are 96 as well as Riverford Farm, which is currently in the process of converting from a family business to a co-operative.

In the nearby beautiful Tamar Valley food producers have teamed up to form Tamar Grow Local.  As well as working together to bring products to market, they have helped people in Plymouth grow their own food as well as cook.

The newly announced action plan will look at the most promising areas for Plymouth to develop its cooperative economy. They are:

  •  The local wellbeing economy – looking at models to support the growing demand for care services
  • Community owned infrastructure – building on existing strengths in the renewable energy and housing field
  • Worker-owned technology and creative industry – to strengthen existing networks to form cooperatives providing better growth prospects and security
  • Public facing cultural and community hubs – develop models for cultural and community spaces to offer services such as workspace and activities
  • Municipal cooperation – looking at procurement and sourcing services differently

 The plan sets out four actions to:

  • Create the right conditions for cooperatives to form
  • Promote and support ways into cooperation
  • Apply national cooperative strategies locally to support health and social care, digital and freelance workers
  • Encourage and support cooperative approaches in the local wellbeing economy.

 “People who work as freelancers in the digital sector, for instance, could really benefit from becoming cooperatives. By working together they can pitch for bigger contracts than they might have on their own.”

Councillor Penberthy added: “It can be done. We have already shown that a little council intervention can make a massive difference. Our Social Enterprise Fund helped created over 200 jobs, brought work to 15 different locations and improved people’s lives.

“Plymouth Energy Community is a fantastic example of this.  Its solar power installations generated 14,654 MWh and saved schools and local organisations £338,000.

“It’s employed local people, local people have a say in how it’s run and over 18,000 households have saved over £1 million through energy saving measures, bill savings and access to benefits, thanks to its advisors.”