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Hopefully this will become a glossary of co-op terms for people to reference back to. Please use the same structure.


A group of people who work together in a single organisation for a group purpose


Beechwood College

Leeds based college set up by the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM) before becoming independent. Beechwood College acted as a training and conference venue for worker co-operatives and CDAs in the 1980s.


Capital (also see 'common capital')
[definition of the word]...

Community Benefit Society

The purpose of a community benefit society is to serve the broader interests of the community, in contrast to co-operative societies that serve the interests of members. The FCA registration guidance acknowledges that a community benefit society might define the community it serves, but this should not inhibit the benefit to the community at large, in other words, community benefit should not be restricted to members only. See Community Shares website.

Charitable Community Benefit Society

[definition of the word] e.g. Stretford Hall
Community Development Funding Institution (CDFI)
Funding bodies dedicated to delivering responsible, affordable lending to help low-income, low-wealth, and other disadvantaged people and communities and enable them to participate in the economy as a whole.

Common Capital

This is capital that is built up over time, cannot be shared out between members ('disinterested distribution') and is recycled back into the co-operative economy through surplus distributions and if a co-operative is dissolved.

Common Ownership

As with other worker co-ops, only the workers in a common ownership can be members and membership is open to all the workers in the co-operative. The distinction is that if the co-operative closes the assets are distributed to another common ownership rather than the individual members.

Community Share Issue

A way for a co-operative, that has been formed into a legally recognised 'society', to raise funds from their members Those who buy community shares in a community business or community benefit society are expecting that business to benefit their community in some way. People who buy community shares can also apply for their money back if it does not impact the society and their community in they expected. This means most people buy community shares to support a community purpose and not to make a financial gain on their shares.

Companies Act

The legal framework for companies. A co-operative can be set up under this Act as a 'company limited by guarantee' which does not have a share capital but instead has limited liability for its directors/members.

A 'co-operative', in the context of the economy, is a business model created by producers, workers, consumers, suppliers, investors who are brought together through voluntary 'membership' for a fairer, more democratic way to run businesses. The International Co-operative Alliance defines a co-operative as: " autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise."
With a rise in co-operatives from the 1800s onwards, these unique organisations were creating goods and services, employment, longer-term stability and fairer conditions for the many and not just the elite wealthy traders of old. In a traditional 'limited' company (where limits are set on who benefits / who is at risk from a companies success or failure) only the bosses decide who will benefit from the profits or sale of a company. In a co-op, where its workers and/or consumers and other 'members' are the business owners, the selling of a company is not generally the way co-operatives think. Instead the 'safeguarding' and 'sustainability' of the business, and saving the owners' jobs, products and services becomes a priority in the varied models of co-operatives. And this is still very much in play today.
A dependable, open, longer-term view of organisations changes the business rhetoric from potential panic sell-off, when things get tight, to a rhetoric that maintains the longer-term approach even during the worst recessions. Stakeholders establish democratic rights from the start and so co-operatives create structured and democratic meetings which, in turn, create 'resolutions' and these are generally set in place from the start to ensure a co-ops viability for the longer term. When the rhetoric is more certain, and workers and members own what they are trying to save, they can be called upon for the solutions - including finding new sources of capital. As owners this means many might vote to deduct cash from their wages or from their own pocket in order to save the co-operative (and their jobs) for the longer-term. Members are therefore in control of the longer-term business growth not for the eventual sale of the company but to genuinely keep the business afloat for all, in perpetuity.
Limited businesses might choose to approach their workforce when they're in trouble and expect greater loyalty amid a mass of redundancies! At best, this would be counter-intuitive to the worker and, whether they work hard or not, the business plea can be on precarious ground when a workforce is not in control of the business. A co-operative workforce has a longer-term strategy from the start, middle and all the way through, all the time, because they own the business as a workforce. A co-operative workforce might make the difficult vote to lower their own wages to genuinely keep the business afloat because there is a certainty that keeping the business afloat is actually the number one priority. Limited ownership enjoyed by wealthier CEOs and directors have a much more difficult task persuading their workers that saving a company is for the workers overall job security.
Co-operatives are unique to their location, environment and their members. A co-operative in developing countries, for example, might be a path to business ownership even for those in poverty. Coming together, and pooling what you do have, gives the means to begin something those involved have a vested interest to see succeed.
What's unique about a co-operative is that it will rarely take advantage of cheaper labour outside of its locality. Or it will be unlikely to close and relocate to find lower wages in a different country, not if its workers have a say (and a vote) to safeguard their own jobs in their locality. Where traditional businesses consider shareholder value first, a co-operative does not need to get swayed by shareholders and relocate, or compromise on quality to reduce costs.

Co-operative College

An educational charity based in Manchester. Dedicated to the promotion of co-operative values, ideas and principles within co-operatives, communities and societies.

Co-operative and Community Finance (ICOF)

The current trading name of ICOF (see ICOF). Lends funds to those which practice or support the principles of co-operation, social ownership, and sustainable development.
Co-operative consortium
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Co-operative Development Agency (CDA, also Co-operative Development Body)

Co-op development agencies deliver co-op business advice and help set up other co-operatives based on their knowledge and experience. We have about 30 in Co-op UK's membership

Co-operatives Research Unit (CRU)

Based at the Open University in Milton Keynes the CRU has nearly 30 years of experience in research, training, consultancy, and publications related to co-operatives, social enterprise and other organisations in the social economy.


Traditionally in a co-operative dividends are paid out to whoever becomes a member of the business - this could be workers or consumers - depending on how the co-operative is set up. The simplest example of 'divvies' comes from the days of the Rochdale Pioneers founding shop. At today's prices a customer, or member, buys purer butter for £2 for example. The co-operative shop would know their mark-up on that product and, by the rules of co-operation and because they have declared it within their governing documents, they will put aside a portion of that mark-up, say 5p, for that customer. Traditionally this would be physically held in a customer's own 'divvy' pigeon hole held at the shop. A customer who keeps buying butter will build up 5p each time they shop. When it comes to 'divvy day' that customer collects back their harvested dividends or invests it back in the business. It is this philosophy which allowed co-operatives to grow from the background of Victorian poverty to fully-capitalised businesses. These co-ops were uniquely capitalised by the workers, or the consumers, and not by shareholders or directors and is still in operation today. Not all co-operatives trade in this way today though many would nod to it by putting it to a vote to all members how best to use surplus profits. This democratic approach to how to use the profits is a foundational element to co-operation.:The difference between how a co-operative distributes dividends and how a non-co-operative businesses, run by one owner or a small group or owners, a 'dividend' is a cash withdrawal of a portion of business surplus (profits) that the owner will take for themselves or their senior directors. The owner can arbitrarily decide who benefits from a dividend; this usually is given to higher management or those they deem having 'performed' better than others. In a larger business with shareholders it is the shareholders who can benefit however it is generally agreed the shareholder's investment is used to keep growing the business so they can sell their 'share' off at a later stage at a higher rate based on the success of the business. However, what a co-operative reveals is the workers - who are diligently and quietly keeping that same business afloat - are almost always overlooked when it comes to the distribution dividends.


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Gig Economy
Similar to 'precarious' work. Often people who are self-employed but taken advantage of due to low pay or working conditions. A reported example would be taxi drivers booked via the Uber platform.


[the] Hive
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Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM)

ICOM is the national federation for worker co-operatives set up in 1971. ICOM merged with the Co-operative Union in 2001 to become Co-operatives UK.

Industrial Common Ownership Finance (ICOF)

ICOF was set up in 1973 and grew out of ICOM. Originally set up to give loans to co-ops from funds contributed by individuals and more established co-ops. Now operating under the trading name Co-operative & Community Finance (CCF), loans are available to those who practice or support the principles of co-operation, social ownership, and sustainable development.

International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)

The International Co-operative Alliance was founded in London, England on 19 August 1895 during the 1st Co-operative Congress. In attendance were delegates from co-operatives from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, and the USA. Representatives established the Alliance's aims to provide information, define and defend the Co-operative Principles and develop international trade. The ICA is the global voice of the co-operative movement.


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Mutual Enterprise

Other member owned organisations that don't comply to all the co-op principles but are fairly close, Building Societies, or employee owned business that are not fully owned by the workers.


A moratorium on a particular activity or process is to put a stop to it, for a fixed period of time, usually as a result of an official agreement.


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Platform Co-operatives

A platform co‑op is a digital platform designed to provide a service or sell a product that is collectively owned and governed by the people who depend on and participate in it. Co-ops that bring 'producers' and customers together and the co-op acts as the digital platform in the middle.

Precarious Workers

Similar to the 'gig economy' (see above) where workers are exploited on zero contracts and few workers' rights.

Productive Co-operatives

The traditional form of the worker co-operative. Over 200 existed at the turn of the 20th century, however fell into decline in the mid-20th century. Many included in their rules: open membership, democratic control, limited interest on capital, and a distributed surplus or dividend which could be used in relation to wages. Within these the degree of workers' control varied.Outside shareholders as well as workers had a vote in affairs.


The smallest number of people needed and present at a meeting before it can officially begin and before official decisions can be taken.


Raised by 'subscription'

Another way of saying raising members' capital. Also called a community share issue.


Shared Ownership (see also Common Ownership)

Not placing ownership as a percentage of the business nor sharing among individuals [more here]

Society (see consumer retail societies , retail societies, partner members)

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Secondary Co-operative

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Stakeholder (see also Multi-stakeholder)
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Subscription (as in 'raised by subscription')

Another way of saying raised by members' capital. Also called a 'community share issue'.


The preferred word to 'profits' in the co-operative movement generally. This is to get away from the standard way profits are understood to be used in traditional companies as decided by the main owners and directors. Because profits are often decided by a small group in a traditional company, human instinct can often ring fence those profits as dividends for themselves. Whereas 'surplus' denotes it is the organisation's stakeholders (for example, an entire workforce) who will agree how to use the surplus (and usually it is for the sustainability of the organisation).


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Values and Principles of a Co-operative


Worker's Coperative
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