Purpose: This paper aims to provide an introduction to how worker co-operatives and other organisations based on principles of the participatory economy have been adopted in a range of international contexts as a vehicle for transforming places with a strong aspiration to address location-specific social challenges. Design/methodology/approach: Through a presentation of four narrative cases, the paper exemplifies international experiences of co-operative approaches to place-making. It critically reflects on the philosophical and strategic underpinnings of the projects implemented in Rochdale, Preston, Bologna, Rome and Cincinnati. Findings: The practical experiences of a number of local projects of place-making involving co-operatives are conceptualised. The research has identified the importance of institutional, organisational and legal constraints for transformative cooperative-based place-making initiatives. It shows a strong relevance of the place’s historic legacy and communal governance for the choice of place-making approaches. Research limitations/implications: Further investigation is needed to establish whether co-operatives have the same driving force potential in terms of local regeneration and community wealth building place-making in non-Western contexts and less developed locations. Practical implications: The paper highlights cases that incorporate place-making practices involving the co-operative organisation and municipal participation and considers their transferability potential. Originality/value: The paper advances an important conversation relevant to researchers, educators, co-operators, politicians and local officials on diverse contemporary approaches in towns and cities that seek to reshape and regenerate local socio-economic fabric by engaging tradition, principles and organisation models developed within the co-operative movement.