Workers’ co-op records to be saved

Well, success!

Over the last few years I’ve been stressing the importance of ensuring that key archives from the co-operative movement are identified and preserved.  In particular I’ve mentioned several times the initiative some of us have been engaged in to focus on workers’ co-op records from the 1970s-1990s.

We’ve had several generous offers of financial support from current workers’ co-ops, from co-operative organisations and from individuals, but we needed the Heritage Lottery Fund to come in and support the project as well.

I’m delighted to say that HLF have indeed now agreed to contribute £43,000 towards the project – so green light to go!

To crib a little text from the press release which has just gone out: “The project, called Working Together: recording and preserving the heritage of the workers’ co-operative movement, aims to identify and make accessible for the first time records from some of the major workers’ co-operatives of the time, together with co-operative support organisations. A trained archivist will be employed for a twelve month period to undertake the work of finding the material, and then in ensuring that where possible it is deposited either at the National Co-operative Archive or in the relevant local county record office or public archive. An oral history element to the project will mean that recordings of the memories of some of those most involved in co-operatives during this period will be made.”

I hope you share my satisfaction that a little part of our history will now be more easily understood by co-operators of the future.

Saving the past, to learn for the future

You’ll know, if you are a regular visitor to my blog, of my involvement in a project which is aiming to ensure that primary material from the upsurge of interest in workers’ coops in Britain in the 1970s-1990s is saved and preserved.  I was at a meeting today in Manchester of the informal committee which is seeking to ensure that this initiative (what we calling Working Together: recording and preserving the heritage of the workers’ co-operative movement) gets the resources it needs to get going.

We worked up a detailed grant application for the project which was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund this summer, and we have now heard back from HLF.  They say that they had applications for three times the money they had available for distribution – and disappointingly we have been one of the unlucky ones.

However, all is definitely not lost.  HLF accept resubmissions, and we are now going to talk to them again about how we can strengthen our bid and maximise our chance of success.  We hope a revised application can be submitted before Christmas.  I’ll keep you posted.

Preserving the past for the future

I wrote back in 2014 and again more recently here of the moves being made to identify and properly preserve key records from the workers’ co-operative movement of the later twentieth century. I need to declare an interest as one of the small advisory group that has been working with the Co-operative Heritage Trust on the project Working Together: recording and preserving the heritage of the workers’ co-operative movement.

The project has already received support from co-operatives and individuals in the movement. I’m pleased to say that the project plan and budget was yesterday submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund, who we hope will also endorse and help fund the initiative.  I’ll let you know how we get on.

Photo project to celebrate coop movement

The Pioneers Museum at Toad Lane in Rochdale have come up with a terrible word (‘coopography’) but really quite a good idea.  They’re inviting people to contribute photos of coop buildings (past or present, though I suspect the old ones will be the most interesting) for an exhibition they’re putting on later in the year.  Photos need to be sent to, or via Twitter or Instagram (#coopography).  The museum’s manager Jenny Mabbott told me this week that the deadline for photo submission is fast approaching: Sep 20th.

I’m minded to contribute myself – perhaps a few snaps of Co-operative Terrace, the little row of houses put up by a village coop society a few miles from here in the late nineteenth century, at a time when housing was increasingly on the agenda in the  cooperative movement.

More details here.

Learning from history

As a momentary pause from all the tales of Co-operative Group troubles, let me make two comments. First, the cooperative movement is worldwide. We need to keep the global perspective to remember that elsewhere coops are demonstrating they are a robust and successful business model.

And secondly, there has been a cooperative movement in Britain for at least two hundred years and I am confident to predict that there will continue to be a British cooperative movement in the years ahead, whatever is happening at present at the Group.

I’ve been an active user of the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester for some months now, for research for a forthcoming history I’m writing on early productive coops, and yesterday the archivist Gillian Lonergan took time to take me downstairs and show me the archives stacks where all the material is carefully conserved. It’s a fascinating and valuable repository of the results of the cooperative impulse in Britain going back to the early nineteenth century, with some real treasures. I’m sure Gillian would like me to add that the archive is looked after by the Co-operative Heritage Trust (associated with the Co-operative College) and is there for all to use.