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The People’s Business – 150 Years of The Co-operative

The People’s Business – 150 Years of The Co-operative

Please note this exhibition will be closed 3.00pm – 4.30pm on Monday 28 April 2014. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

12 October 2013 — 11 May 2014

A CWS jam advert c1930s, National Co-operative Archive, copyright The Co-operative Group


The museum’s latest changing exhibition looks at all things co-operative. For 150 years The Co-operative has grown to first manufacture and then to sell products. Its services continue to support the families and communities of Great Britain and the world ‘from the cradle to the grave’.

This people’s business began its humble origins as the Co-operative Wholesale Society in Greater Manchester in 1863. The exhibition explores the story and values behind the ‘caring sharing co-op’ and offer a unique insight into the way we shop and live.

Themes that the exhibition cover include:


  • The business (origins & history, values, principles, ownership)Bus advertisement for The Co-operative Bank c1970s National Co-operative Archive, copyright The Co-operative Group
  • Services and commodities (products, manufacturing, ethical consumerism)
  • Innovation (supply chain, own brand)
  • Solidarity (protecting the environment, consumer rights, fairtrade etc)
  • Working and living together (The Co-operative Party, societies, campaigns)

There are interactives throughout the exhibition space and visitors can get involved and share their experiences and offer comments and feedback.

Dividend stamps introduced nationally by CWS in 1969, National Co-operative Archive, copyright The Co-operative Group

Follow @PHMMcr on twitter to keep up to date with the exhibition #coop150ex.

There is a varied events programme related to the subjects and themes covered in the exhibition. Check out the events here.

The Co-operative
The Co-operative Group is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned not by private shareholders but by over seven million consumers. They are the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer and a major financial services provider, operating The Co-operative Bank and The Co-operative Insurance. They also operate a funeral services, the third largest pharmacy chain and one of Britain’s largest farming operations. The Group operates 4,800 retail trading outlets, employs more than 100,000 people and has an annual turnover of more than £13bn.

Like any business, they want to be a commercial success. However, even more impoAdvertisement for The Co-operative Bank's ethical policy c1992, National Co-operative Archive, copyright The Co-operative Grouprtant to them is the way that they do business, and the way that they use their profits. They believe that they should offer our customers both value and values.

Their members are their owners; members tell them what is important to them and they listen and act on it. It’s part of their model: as a consumer co-operative, they run their business for the benefit of members. That means members are involved in democratic decision-making and profits are shared with the members. Members also set a social and campaigning agenda that they support.

They have become pioneers in areas such as Fairtrade and combating climate change. The more commercially successful they are, the more they can do to give back to the communities they serve and to influence the wider world.

The Co-operative



Exhibition updates:

  • Find out more from Lisa Keys, Curator of The People’s Business as she talks about her top three objects as well as the exhibition as a whole
  • Watch a short video of Conservator Leanne Tonkin talking about conservation of the Co-operative Women’s Guild banner that features in the exhibition
  • Why not pick up a souvenir from your visit in the museum shop?  Items include mugs, coasters, postcards, badges, mirrors and magnets and feature some of the iconic co-op packaging that is in the exhibition
  • If you’re a teacher, tutor or group leader why not visit The People’s Business exhibition and enjoy a range of co-operative themed Learning sessions and use our co-operative Learning resources to enhance your visit
  • Did you know you can book one of our Living History performances using the 1930s co-op shop on Main Gallery Two?  Meet Woody the Time Travelling Shopper and find out about life in the past.   For further information or to book a session, please use the Learning enquiry form to contact the Learning Team or call 0161 838 9190

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