We are celebrating 150 years of co-operation! 

On Saturday 3 March we are celebrating our 150th birthday. We were founded in 1868 to provide good quality, honest food at reasonable prices for the community, today we have over 230 stores and branches across Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, over 4,000 employees and 288,000 members.

Read on to gain insight into our 150 year history, and share your memories with us!

150 years of Co-operation

Share your memories

Share your memories with us and they could be used by us in our birthday celebrations.

The Rochdale Pioneers. 1844

Twenty-eight tradesmen from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, came together to start a new kind of business. They each invested £1 and rented a shop which offered safe, reasonably priced food for the community, selling basics like bread, eggs, milk and candles.

Soon the shop had earned a good reputation and started to turn a profit. The local community invested and took a share in ownership, becoming members of the first ever co-operative.

The Rochdale Pioneers established values and principles which still guide co-ops around the world today - including the East of England Co-op.

Where our story begins...

The Colchester and East Essex Co-operative and Industrial Society was founded in 1861, by a silk weaver named John Castle and his friend Mr Dand. 

A successful fresh start...

It wasn't until 1867 that George Hines set up the Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society, with the company registering their business number on 3rd March 1868 - the same number the East of England Co-op is registered to today.

A similar story to tell...

In 1858, two co-operative societies were formed in Norwich. One traded in coal and flour, while the Norwich Co-operative Society sold tea, cocoa and small goods.

Women and Co-operatives

Co-operative societies gave women equal rights and opportunities long before Parliament. Societies enabled women to receive their own dividend and have an equal vote in their co-operative an incredible 80 years before they would be granted the parliamentary vote. 

Hadleigh Co-operative Women's Guild, 1928

The 1880s also saw a number of smaller co-operative societies established that would later merge to form the East of England Co-op, including Hadleigh, Wickham Market, St Stephen's Square in Norwich and Sizewell Road in Leiston, where we still have a store to this day. 

The 1900s

An advert for Co-operative Tea, an early product of the Society bought from the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS)

At the heart of the community

The Colchester and East Essex Co-operative and Industrial Society alone had 6,300 members by 1903, with sales of £130,000 a year. Co-ops were now offering much more than simply food; they were providing musical and social groups, as well as sporting activities for members and their families.

Hadleigh branch, early 1900s

Specialist services

In 1925, The Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society opened their first funeral branch. The Colchester and East Essex Co-operative Industrial Society soon followed in 1932, followed by an opticians, and in 1935, the Society opened a pharmacy on Long Wyre Street.

Between 1937 and 1938, one hundred Basque children were given refuge from the Spanish Civil War at Wherstead Park, Suffolk. During their stay, the children were cared for by the local community and businesses, including the Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society. Eighty years later, Wherstead Park was to become the Head Office for the East of England Co-op.

The 1940s

The 1940s saw the introduction of the first electric delivery vehicle for greengrocery, in addition to the 20 horse driven delivery vans in use at the time. 

Strength in co-operation

In 1940, the Ministry of Food introduced rationing of food and other goods. Every household had to register with a local store and take their ration book each week to collect basic supplies of butter, bacon, ham and sugar. 131,140 people registered with the Colchester and East Essex Co-operative and Industrial Society alone, almost half the population of the town at the time.

Did you know? 

Some of the items deemed 'essential' during rationing might seem a little strange to us today. They included grate polish, hearthstones, hops, violet powder and lobster, to name just a few.

The 1950s


Up until the 1950s, customers would have been served their groceries over a counter. But a new way of shopping had emerged in America, with customers using baskets to serve themselves from shelves. 

By the late 1960s, all Ipswich Co-operative Society stores were self-service.

Convenience food

The 1950s were the age of the spam fritter, tinned fruit and evaporated milk. Meat and two veg were the staple diet for families across the country that were still living with the post-war rationing of bacon, tea, sugar, butter and cheese.

Did you know? 

At the start of the decade, only 3% of the UK population owned a fridge, with fridge-freezers not coming onto the scene until the 1960s. To keep things cool you would have a larder and shop almost daily.

Mobile shops

In 1954, the first mobile grocery shop was used to serve Suffolk communities with no facilities for a co-op shop. Customers were won over by the range and convenience of having the shop visit them on their doorstep.

It was also during this time that the Colchester Society expanded its fleet of mobile shops. 

The 1960s

TV Takeover

An icon of her day, Patricia Phoenix took Ipswich by storm when she arrived to open the modernised and extended Carr Street premises.

Patricia Phoenix, (Elsie Tanner, Coronation Street) receives a bouquet, 13 November 1965

Peter Adamson (Len Fairclough, Coronation Street) signs autographs, September 1963

The swinging 60s

Although television first made an appearance in the fifties, they were too expensive for most people to afford. During the sixties that changed. More people had more money to spend and by the end of the decade almost every home had a television set - and for many people it was a colour one.

The co-operative movement in the east quickly met their customers and members' desire for bulky electrical items, creating new modern areas within their department stores to showcase the latest products.

The new 'Defiant' television on display at St Nicholas House, Colchester.

The 1970s

In Colchester, a new supermarket opened in Stanway in 1971. Located where five roads met, the store was named 'Fiveways', a brand name that would also be given to other new supermarkets. 

The Ipswich Co-operative Society opened their first supermarket at Boss Hall in 1977. Given the name 'Solar', the new store was a success and Solar supermarkets soon opened in Felixstowe and Halstead.

To reflect the positive attitude of the movement in the region, local and national TV personalities were invited to add showbiz sparkle to new store openings and events and boy, did they bring out the crowds.

Household names, including Morecombe and Wise, Terry Wogan, David Ballamy and Dick Emery, all visited the region to cut ribbons and sign autographs in front of hoards of eager fans.

The 1980s

Image is everything

The 1980s is often seen as the decade of consumerism. On the high street people had more choice than ever before in how and where they shopped, and because of that advertising was hugely important.

Unlike in other parts of the country where retailers and smaller co-operatives were struggling to survive, the co-operative movement in the east was in a strong position. Membership was rising and more people were joining rather than leaving the movement.

Customers queue to pick up a New Year sale bargain including the latest in TV technology for just £10.


The 1990s

A fairer way of doing business

The co-operative movement has proudly supported Fairtrade since the mark was first introduced in 1994, being the first UK retailer to sell Fairtrade bananas. Today, entire ranges of Co-operative own-brand products carry the Fairtrade marks, including chocolate, tea, coffee and even cotton wool.


Ipswich Co-operative Society merged with Norwich Society forming the Ipswich and Norwich Co-operative Society.

At the heart of communities

In the 90s the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company supported by the Ipswich Co-operative Society since the Second World War, became a household name. 

The East of England Co-op are still proud supporters of the Co-op Juniors, providing them with a rehearsal space in Ipswich.

Stronger together

On 31 October 2005, the Ipswich and Norwich and the Colchester and East Essex Co-operative societies merged, and the East of England Co-op was born.

Today, the East of England Co-op is the largest independent retailer in the region, with over 4,300 colleagues across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.

We're owned by over 288,000 members who each have an equal say in how our business is run. And just as they did 150 years ago, they each receive a dividend - or 'divi' as it's become affectionately known - based upon how much they spend with us. Today, we have over 120 food stores and supermarkets across the region, but it's not all we do...

We took our commitment to our local roots one step further, when we began sourcing food and drink from local producers on our doorstep.

This initiative was branded 'Sourced Locally' in 2007.

Still at the heart of communities

We're incredibly proud of our heritage and it's important to us that we continue to support communities that we've been at the heart of for so many years. 

We ended 2017 by becoming the first major retailer to start selling food beyond it's 'Best Before' date for just 10p. This pioneering move, which has since been adopted by other retailers will save tonnes of perfectly edible food from going to landfill.


Find out about our heritage products & any member exclusive deals.                                                             

Celebrate with us

Find your local store and pop in.