Some time ago, I called the Co-operative Party a lighthouse, one able to point the way to a more co-operative and mutual future.

The light within that lighthouse comes from the co-operative movement – both here at home and abroad. Co-operatives Fortnight is a good opportunity to reflect upon a movement in the UK which basis itself on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.

We hold dear our principles of voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, education and training, co-operation among co-operatives, concern for community, autonomy and independence and member economic participation.

It is these values and principles which guide and meld together a movement in the UK which now comprises of over 7,000 independent co-operative businesses. It employees over 200,000 people, and contributes £34bn a year to the economy.

These numbers are startling, but do not tell the full story. Our co-operatives often work in challenging regulatory environments, having to compete with private businesses, in a system designed with the PLC in mind rather than people working together with common purpose. Indeed the Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, Ed Mayo, has called co-operatives ‘fresh water fish in salt water’.

Too often, we’re forced to battle to prove that our model works, with questions asked of us that have not been asked of the tired old models which are seen as the ‘default’ in our economy.

Our co-operative business model doesn’t just talk about uniting communities – it does so, in practical, tangible ways. From communities coming together to own local assets such as shops and pubs or community transport, to local people working together on progressive causes such as community renewable energy schemes or access to financial services via credit unions.

As we enter unchartered waters following the result of last weeks’ referendum, I, the Co-operative Party and co-operators across the country will be ready to ensure that where our movement can offer answers, we do not sit on our hands. And where there is a chance that our model and our movement could be disadvantaged during the inevitable reshaping and negotiation, we will be the first to work with others and those in power to alleviate further impediments we might face.

Our credit unions, our co-operative retail societies, our independent co-operatives – whether consumer or worker owned – provide the light in our lighthouse. They are different and hold something unique. The wider policy debate would do well to examine why our diverse movement has been able to grow and thrive, even amidst ten years of turmoil.

So as we celebrate co-operatives in this fortnight we should remember why we celebrate and why we must remain united in the weeks and months to come. If we do that, we will remain the guiding light for those who want to discover a better way of doing business.