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What is a co-operative?

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Co-operatives can range from a handful of people to the vast "The Co-operative Group", with 4.5 million members and business interests that range from retail to financial services.

All co-operatives work on the basis that their members share common principles and enjoy the same benefits. The aim is that by joining together, more can be achieved than with individuals acting alone.

True Food Co-operative began in 1999 when a group of friends, concerned about industrialised production of food and household goods, joined together to buy organic and ethically produced food and products in bulk, to make them more affordable to everyone involved. To make this available to local people, they set up travelling pop-up markets that visited community centres around Reading. As more people saw the benefits that True Food brought them and their community, it grew from strength to strength, culminating in a permanent home at the current shop site in Emmer Green in 2009.

All but the smallest of co-operatives are run by a decision-making body elected by the membership. True Food has 177 members who give freely of their time to keep the organisation going, and have the right to vote in the election of our volunteer committee, who in turn employ five members of paid staff to manage the day-to-day running of the business.

The paid staff include our Business Manager, Helen Warren, who works closely with the committee and staff team. We have a full time Buyer, Rebecca Hughes and two Shop Managers, Helga Bogisch-Francis and Steve Dismukes. They are all supported by our Finance Manager, Julia Moore.

What we want to achieve and the principles and ethics that steer us, are set out in our Business Plan. This is developed with the input of members and adopted by the full membership.

Without the voluntary input of its members, True Food would struggle to survive, as to keep costs affordable, the paid staff contingent has to be kept to a minimum. Member volunteers benefit from a 12.5% discount off their shopping. Although some co-operative groups share profits between members, any profits that True Food makes are reinvested back into the business. How this is done is decided at membership meetings and by the committee.

If you would like to become a member of True Food and contribute to making our co-op stronger and better, please speak to one of our Shop Managers when you next come into the shop.

By Charlotte Hawkins, a long-standing active member of True Food