By Daniel Hunter

As new figures show that over eight million people - almost a fifth of people in the UK - buy in bulk co-operatively, a new £60,000 community buying innovation challenge opens to applications today (Tuesday).

The Buy Better Together Challenge is encouraging more and more people to think collectively to combine their buying power.

The research, carried out by Co-operatives UK, the national trade body for co-operative enterprises, reveals that 17% of people already buy in bulk with others.

The community challenge prize, launched by Co-operatives UK and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) hopes to see this increase throughout 2012 by encouraging new models of community buying.

The Buy Better Together Challenge is an exciting initiative to help inspire new models of community buying, stimulate enterprise and promote shared learning and both Co-operatives UK and BIS have contributed £30k to the prize fund.

Community buying, which involves groups of individuals combining their buying power to purchase goods or services together and get better deals from shops and other suppliers, can help businesses spread their overheads and in turn lowers costs for consumers.

The challenge is now open to applications from groups and organisations within the public, voluntary or business sectors, which focus on creating new or developing existing community buying schemes.

To give guidance to applicants there are three challenges. They are:

- Challenge One: A project aimed at creating a platform, tool or vehicle to help individuals to come together and form a community buying group.

- Challenge Two: A project aimed at enabling existing or new community groups to develop their purchasing power by working collectively.

- Challenge Three: A project aimed at businesses to empower their employees or consumers to group for community buying.

The Buy Better Together Challenge £60,000 pot will go towards training and mentoring for stand out projects and includes £15,000 for the overall winner.

“The Buy Better Together Challenge is a fantastic partnership between BIS and Co-operatives UK and gives groups a great opportunity to deliver real deals and social benefits for their communities," Norman Lamb, recently appointed Consumer Affairs Minister, said.

“I would encourage communities and businesses to get involved, read the guide on how to get started and submit an entry to the challenge on the website. Community buying has a range of uses to give consumers a bigger voice - from food co-operatives to heating oil groups — and I look forward to seeing the innovative ideas later this year.”

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