Plunkett Foundation helps communities to take control of their challenges and overcome them through co-operation. We support people, predominantly in rural areas, to set up and run life-changing community co-operatives; enterprises that are owned and run democratically by large numbers of people in their community. They help people to tackle a range of issues such as isolation, loneliness and poverty, and come in many forms including shops, cafes, pubs and land-based initiatives, and anything in between.

Plunkett’s Strategy

Today, we actively represent a network of over 500 rural community co-operatives that are trading across all parts of the UK and we support these organisations to thrive. Our strategy, which runs from 2015-17, aims to grow this sector by raising awareness of the co-operative model to more communities than ever before, and to particularly reach geographic areas and individuals most in need.

Our Story

Our organisation has been supporting communities for almost 100 years, having been founded by the great Irish co-operative pioneer, Sir Horace Plunkett, in 1919. The Foundation was originally established to promote the co-operative model internationally, and over our history, our work has taken interest in various models of co-operation around the world, and ranged from research, awareness raising and business support. Today, our work is primarily concerned with community co-operation in the UK, and we support communities at every stage of setting up and trading.

Who was Sir Horace?Sir Horace Plunkett

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett was born in rural Gloucestershire on 24 October 1854. He was the son of an Irish peer and the family moved to Dunsany, Ireland in 1860. Sir Horace was educated at Eton and Oxford and whilst at University he came into contact with industrial co-operative societies. His understanding of the concept of rural people coming together to help their community spurred him into action.

During 1879 to 1889 he ranched in Wyoming in the spring and summer and returned to Ireland during the winter. His travelling did much to expand his horizons and returning to Ireland after his father's death in 1889, he became concerned with the survival of Irish farmers, still emerging from mid-century famine and increasingly beset by competition from Europe and the USA.

Following a long campaign persuading Irish farmers that pooling resources, thereby creating strength in numbers, was the only way for them to survive, the first dairy co-operative was formed at Dromcollagher, Co. Limerick in 1889. In 1894 he founded the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society with 33 affiliated dairy co-operative societies. Just four years later there were 947. Hence why he had a personal lifelong belief that rural communities didn’t have to wait for someone else to make life better for them – they had the potential to do it themselves with a little help.

Sir Horace became a politician and as such his work focus was much broader than rural communities. However, in January 1919 he made an initial endowment of £5,000 to set up the Horace Plunkett Foundation to continue his rural work after his death – referring to it as his ‘Foundation for Rural Life’.

He died in Weybridge, Surrey on 26 March 1932.

Whilst discussing our founder it would be remiss to not mention Margaret Digby, CBE (1902 – 1985) who was the inspiration and driving force behind the Plunkett Foundation for nearly 50 years. She worked for Plunkett Foundation from 1927 and we have recently located her diaries which we are looking forward to reading and learning more about her work.

Our partners

We're really proud of the work we do to help rural communities to set up life-changing community co-operatives, but we couldn't do it alone. We work with some fantastic funders from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Prince's Countryside Fund, Power to Change Trust and Big Lottery Fund and partners such as Locality, CAMRA, NALC, ACRE and the Post Office. If you'd like to find out more about our partners, or you'd like to find out how we can work together, please get in touch with us. 

Our governance

Plunkett Foundation is a charity registered in England and Wales (CC 313743), and in Scotland (SC 045932). We are also a company limited by guarantee (00213235). As a membership organisation, we have an engaged membership consisting of individuals, organisations, and community co-operatives who are passionate about our work. We are governed by an active Board of Trustees whom are elected by our membership.