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.

Three books for World Book Day

World Book Day today.   Co-operative News asked me a few weeks back to come up with three books I thought CN readers (and others in the co-operative movement) might find interesting, and they’ve taken the opportunity to publish my response online today. You’ll find it on their website here. Presumably it will also be coming shortly in the print edition

The news about the News

I’ve been meaning for a while to mention here the February issue of Co-operative News (and not because it includes a nice little feature on Gritstone Publishing, the new authors’ co-operative of which I am a founder member – although that would of course be worth the mention!)

Co-operative News has been serving the movement since September 2 1871, and it remains a valuable tool. The decision has been taken – correctly, I think – to move from fortnightly to monthly publication, and the February issue is the first one in this new extended format. It works. The design is significantly better than previously and there’s a good range of news and features (the challenge now, of course, is to maintain this breadth of coverage).

Co-operative News is also undergoing a legal change and will very shortly be opening up membership of Co-operative Press Ltd, which produces the magazine, to its supporters and members. This also seems to me to be a valuable step forward. I’ll be becoming a member. We need CN.

Remembering our past

I was invited yesterday evening to Halifax, to talk to the local history society there. (I should give it its proper name, the Halifax Antiquarian Society, a venerable local institution first established in 1901).  I was discussing the story of perhaps the best known of the later nineteenth century productive cooperatives, the fustian manufacturing coop in Hebden Bridge (also the subject of my 2015 book All Our Own Work).

There were about seventy people there on a cold and cheerless February evening, including the grandson of Thomas Morgan, one of the cooperative’s committee-men, who had made the journey from Morecambe to attend. I must say that it’s very heartening that British cooperative history can still attract this level of interest.

Housing provision, the community-led way

Today has been put aside in my diary for some voluntary work (and some final tweaks to a grant application) on behalf of my local Community Land Trust, for which I occupy the post of secretary.

CLTs are part of a growing movement for what is called ‘community-led housing’, the idea being that bottom-up community efforts can bring much-needed housing to meet local needs which the commercial property market is failing to tackle.  Given that today also sees the government’s Housing White Paper published, it seems very appropriate as a focus for my blog.

I can also use the opportunity to get in a plug for a new booklet from the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, which provides a useful introduction to the subject (CCH prefer to talk of ‘cooperative and community-led housing).  You’ll find their report, New Co-operative and Community-led Homes, here.

CCH is one of a number of national organisations engaged in this field (Locality, the Cohousing Network and the National Network of CLTs are among the others). It has to be said that there is a slight element of overkill here in terms of national support networks.  At some point, a little appropriate amalgamation might be in order.

How do we build a democratic economy?

Another useful Ways Forward conference yesterday in Manchester, the fifth that Co-operative Business Consultants have organised in a commendable attempt to stir things up in the British coop movement (or at least in some of it) and get debate and discussion going.

My impressions? A good turn-out and (given what was happening at the same time in Washington DC) a good spirit to the event. The majority of speakers in both the opening and closing plenaries were women (the only male speaking before the first coffee break was Vivian Woodell of the Phone Co-op, and I guess his name can confuse some, anyway), and there were younger people both on the platform and in the hall. Ieva Padagaité from Blake House Co-op, for example, reminded us of why she, and other young people, are looking to the co-op model as a collective response to low pay, job insecurity and the gig economy.

Molly Scott-Cato, Green MEP for the South-West, was here again as last year and – as last year – well worth listening to. She is right: capitalism has lost credibility in this country and we have to build a response to public fear and to anger at growing inequalities. She quoted a banner which had gone up in London on Trump’s inauguration day: “What happens next is up to us”. That’s the spirit we need.

So let’s take stock. How are we doing, a year on from the conference when both Molly Scott-Cato and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell were discussing an alternative way forward for the British economy?  In some way, and disappointingly, perhaps not so much has been achieved. The Labour leadership has not yet been able to get across its vision for an economy serving social need rather than shareholder greed, and I’m not sure the coop movement has really geared itself to the task it could be undertaking. Good ideas emerge in the workshops and plenaries at the Ways Forward events but there’s not really the mechanisms in place yet for the follow-through.

Ways Forward has become a valuable event in the cooperative calendar and Phil Frampton and his CBC colleagues deserve considerable thanks for their organising hard work. Their event needs supporting. But somehow we have to gain more momentum if the opportunities of the present are to be grasped.

 

Board elections at the Phone Co-op

I’ve been casting my vote in an election and it’s not been an easy matter. The election is for three members of the board of the Phone Co-op, and there are ten members of the co-op putting themselves forward, many of them clearly strong candidates.

Not easy to decide, but what a nice problem to have!  What a refreshing change from those fake elections for board places on building societies, for example. The Phone Co-op does not pay its non-exec directors particularly lavish fees (directors received just over £1200 a year, last time I looked), but nevertheless its elections are consistently contested and usually – as this time – attract a strong field of candidates.

Good corporate governance?  Give that co-op a tick.