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They are businesses that are owned and run by the people closest them.

Whether they are customers, employees, suppliers or local residents, the members of a co-operative have an equal say in what it does and decide how its profits are shared.

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Alongside this solid commercial performance, the number of people who own and control the UK’s co-operatives has grown by more than 10%, to nearly a quarter of the UK's population.

From customer owned retailers giving more people a voice over their businesses to the a surge in the number of people starting and joining grassroots community owned organisations – from credit unions to community farms – the rise in co-operative ownership is a significant development for the UK’s business sector, meaning that the number of co-op members continues to outstrip the number of shareholders in the UK.

“Co-operative business groups have long been a part of Britain’s rich commercial history, encouraging diversity and promoting responsible capitalism.

From credit unions to community cafes, they create jobs, provide important services and add £34 billion to the British economy.

“I was born in Rochdale, where the ideals of co-operative governance were first crafted, so the role of business in the community has always been an issue close to my heart.

When people take a stake in businesses that matter to them, we see greater engagement, increased productivity and more innovation.

Co-operatives should be incredibly proud of the work they do across the country.” From the outside a co-operative might look like any other business.

It is what happens inside that makes them different.

In a time of austerity, as we wait for a rebalanced economy, stable jobs and sustainable growth, it can be hard to think big. Many of us involved in responsible business have been asking the question for some time.

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