Firms urged to look into co-operative model of trading

Businesses across the region are being urged to look at the potential advantages of forming co-operatives.

Under the current economic climate, experts believe that the approach of co-operative based trading could offer potential benefits to business with advantages in areas such as collective purchasing or joint marketing initiatives.

Norwich-based consultancy The Guild – which is celebrating its 20th anniversary – is an organisation that offers advice on setting up co-operatives.

With Co-operatives Fortnight running from June 25 to July 9, The Guild says now could be a good opportunity for like-minded business (communities of interest) to consider forming a co-operative – where the business organisation is owned and operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit.

Based in St John Maddermarket, it is a specialist in social enterprise development and supplying business advice to co-operatives, community interest companies and trading charities.

Founder and principal consultant Sally Kelly: 'Advantages of a co-operative range from collectively resourcing material through to collectively marketing services and products.

'It can cheapen supply but also provide wider marketing opportunities. Co-operatives have a long history but they have developed over the years.

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'At The Guild, we are looking to promote the advantages for several different reasons: we think that the co-operative structure has got a lot to offer companies; we think in the current economic circumstances the idea of collectivising action is a really useful way of spreading small resources wider; and we also want to encourage communities of interest to look at ways they can supply services to themselves.

'The co-operative sector is really good in terms of marketing to itself and the basic co-operative principal is that you trade with other co-operatives where possible.'

There are a number of co-operatives in East Anglia of various sizes, notably buying group Anglia Farmers, which with its collective power has reaped numerous benefits and cost savings for its members.

But there are smaller ventures that will gain equal benefits such as food and fishing co-operatives or housing groups.

Further support for would-be co-operatives is available through the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, which offers free, easily accessible and relevant support for co-operatives, and welcomes applications from an array of co-operatives from established businesses and groups that are about to set up a new co-operative.

Keith Bendell, who is a social enterprises business adviser at The Guild, said: 'There are people out there for whom a co-operative structure would be really useful.'

The Guild can provide support, do a feasibility study, look at business planning and income generation, expanding the business, give practical advice in developing the idea and help select the right business structure as well as providing ongoing training and consultancy services.

Mr Bendell said: 'A concern some organisations have is that they lose some identity through a co-operative, but that is not the case. Each company remains free to operate individually. It is just a way of collectively improving your own indiviudal business model.'

For more information, contact The Guild on 01603 615200 or visit