The Co-operative Movement has always interested me a great deal too. My grandfather, George Martin Thomas, was manager of the Home Furnishings Department of Aberdare Coop in the 1930s and early 40s. In its heyday it was a department store that the community was immensely proud of. Every town had its Coop branch, and I recall my mother taking her passbook with her each time she shopped, to have her 'dividend' added. We actually lived in Trecynon, one of the villages around Aberdare, but this community too had a small Coop for groceries.
A Welshman, Robert Owen (1771 - 1858), is generally regarded as the father of the co-operative movement, though his early attempts to set-up co-operative communities in both Scotland and the US ultimately failed. However, in 1844, twenty-eight men, inspired and influenced by Owen, started what we recognise as Co-operation today, and became known as the Rochdale Pioneers. We need to reflect on the social conditions of the time to fully appreciate their sense of solidarity and commitment. In the 1840s, life expectancy was approximately twenty-one, bosses could cut wages because unemployment was high, and shops often adulterated foodstuffs and 'doctored' weights and measures. The Rochdale Pioneers started by each setting aside 2d (two old pence) a week until they had each saved £1 - the sum they set for membership. By my reckoning, with there being 240 pennies in a pre-decimal pound, this would have taken them about two and a half years - impressive to think of their grit and determination. They devised a set of eight principles to work by. These were based on democratic rights and fair dealing, open membership, political and religious tolerance, and the promotion of education amongst its members. Once they had raised £28 they rented a property, and what was left after repair and renovation was used to purchase their first stock. They were laughed at initially, and mocked by some of the other shopkeepers. However by the end of the first year they had increased their membership to seventy-four and had a surplus of £22. The movement thrived, and by 1860 it had spawned six branch stores and had nearly three and a half thousand members.
There's a huge amount of stuff about Co-operatives on Line. If you're interested in further research The National Co-operative Archive site is well worth taking a peek at.