To keep costs as low as possible, food co-ops usually rely on volunteers to carry out much of the work.

Many food co-ops are run entirely by volunteers, whereas others (generally those operating on a larger scale) have some paid staff and are supported by volunteers.

The approach your food co-op takes to volunteers will probably depend on how your food co-op has been set up. Some food co-ops are formed by a group of individuals who are all working together to run the co-op as volunteers. Other food co-ops are set up with the support of an existing organisation such as a primary care trust, housing association, environmental group, or school. These usually have paid staff to help oversee the food co-op.

If your food co-op is solely driven and managed by volunteers then it is a good idea to encourage everyone to play an equal part in decision-making and running the group. You will need to recruit enough members to make the co-op work, and ensure that everyone contributes so that all the work does not fall on a few individuals. You may have a policy that all members and customers of the food co-ops need to volunteer a certain number of hours a month (in which case some of the information below may not be so relevant to your situation). However, as the food co-ops grows you may wish to designate certain members with specific responsibilities such as managing the orders or the money. Another useful role is to have someone whose main task is to co-ordinate the tasks of other volunteers.

Many food co-ops are also run by, or in partnership with, an existing organisation such as a children's centre, school or community centre. In this case there may already be volunteer policies and procedures that you will need to follow.

The pages in this section highlight the main points that any organisation with several volunteers needs to consider, especially if you are setting up a new group or have not worked with volunteers before.

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