In 1844 a group of 28 men kick started the co-operative movement by setting up the Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society.
This society bought key essentials in bulk and sold them to members at reasonably prices. The group rented a room at 31 Toad Lane (in Rochdale, obviously), made a counter out of planks and barrels and sold butter, oats, sugar and candles. Only members of the co-op could buy from this shop but anyone could join as long as he or she paid a small subscription.
The rules of how the co-op would work were clearly set out. These stated that; all sales would be in cash, no credit would be given, the food sold would be pure, any profits would be shared amongst the members, that men and women would be equally entitled to participate and that members would have regular reports on how things were going. These rules have evolved into the “Rochdale Principles of Co-operation” which underpin the modern co-operative movement.
The Rochdale Pioneers Museum , on the site of the original store, is due to re-open later this year and, if you can’t wait for that, the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester is a great source of information.