Rochdale experiment that began 150 years of co-operation

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The Co-op began in 1844, when the Rochdale Pioneers, a group of 28 weavers, pooled their meagre savings and bought a grocery shop in Rochdale, Lancashire, for the grand sum of pounds 28, writes Becky Lloyd.

Profits from the shop, which sold "wholesome food at reasonable prices", were shared between the group in proportion to the amount spent by each member. The idea quickly became popular elsewhere.

In 1863 the various co-operative societies joined together to form their own wholesaling company. The Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) was formed in 1867, and is now one of the country's leading insurers, serving 3.5 million families through a network of 7,000 representatives.

The Co-operative Bank was formed in1872.

The Co-operative Union, the umbrella organisation under which the different types of Co-operative are linked together, was formed in 1869 and is still the national co-ordinating body. Member societies send delegates to the Union's annual meeting.

The retail Movement now has a turnover in excess of pounds 7.8bn, 68,000 staff and eight million members. The Movement, which offers everything from milk to funerals through its 4,600 outlets, can still claim to look after its members "from the cradle to the grave".