Stronger together: the essence of co-operatives

AF Head of Member Services Louis Clabburn takes a look at what gives co-operatives such as AF as much strength and relevance in 2023 as they did when the idea of business people working together first started.


Rochdale, Lancashire, is where the co-operative movement began back in 1844. The first was established by 28 men who raised funds to make positive changes to living conditions, profit, improve quality and give back to the community.

The legacy of this desire for positive change is now felt around the world. 1.2 billion of us are members of at least one of the 3 million co-operatives worldwide. To continue with some numbers, 280 million people work in these co-operatives.

Co-operative principles woven into AF

The founding principles of the co-operative movement are woven into the fabric of AF. We started from the collective desire of farmers to join forces for the betterment of their own farming and the farms of their co-owners.

Our roots go deep, through over 30 years of working co-operatively together. There have been changes, yes, but AF has not deviated away from the seven key founding principles of being a co-operative. 

Clearly focussed – Our purpose is to benefit you and other Members who own and control us. To do this we must also support our staff, those in the supply chain and the wider community.  We are not a supplier but key part of your business.

Transparent – Every Member has an equal say in how we operate and how profits are distributed.  We clearly outline and explain our accounts at our AGM. If profits are made we explain how these are fairly and proportionately distributed. 

Member-financed – Every Member has to contribute financially in some way, this is achieved via the membership fees and services charges, which are proportioned and reduced for those who purchase more through the Group.   

Independent – AF Group maintains its integrity and independence. We procure a huge range of inputs independently across multiple product providers and seek out economies of scale in our ordering to be able to return real value to our Members.

Transformational – Education and training – in all its forms – to everyone associated with the Group, so that the we can all promote the benefits of the co-op.  To Members, we share market insights, updates and opportunities.

Collaborative  – As a co-op AF works with other co-operatives.  There is cohesion with other buying groups in our sector. Some are members of the AF Group Society.

Supportive of community – As a co-op, AF supports community efforts for the betterment of all in need. We are strong supporters of YANA, The East Anglian Air Ambulance, Norfolk Blood Bikes, the Big C and Great Ormond Street hospital.

Here for you whatever the times

Adversity is often cited as a driver that brings people together. But for your AF co-operative, it is the collective pursuit of prosperity that brings us, your AF teams and you and other Members, together.

However, it happens that now there are multiple challenges to the prosperity of many farming businesses. This adversity – whether climatic, aginflationary, geo-political – is the current context for all that AF does. Many of our longest-standing Members can remind us of other difficult times. But new Members and old see that there has never been a better or more important time to be in a co-operative buying group. Stronger together: as simple as that.

Louis Clabburn Head of Member Services 01603 881 838