Kettering and co-ops

If you were to name one English town which, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, led the way in terms of manufacturing co-operation (what we would now refer to as workers’ co-ops) it would probably be the Northamptonshire town of Kettering.  The traditional boot and shoe production areas which included Northamptonshire as a whole as well as Leicester were the heartlands of productive co-operation.

Rather late in the day I’ve been told that the Kettering local museum The Manor House has a small temporary exhibition on the town’s links to co-operation. Late in the day, because the exhibition has been running since October and closes on Saturday.  Still, who knows, you may have the chance to get to Kettering in the next 48 hours. Details here.

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The responsibility not to forget the past

I blogged earlier today a story about a key figure, Joseph Greenwood, from the ‘first’ workers’ cooperative movement in Britain, at a time when these enterprises were known as productive cooperatives.

I need to bring you more up to date. A number of us with a background in (late 20th century) workers’ coops have been concerned for some time that key records from the upsurge of interest in Britain in workers’ cooperatives since the 1970s are in danger of being lost. We feel that the workers’ cooperative movement was (and remains) an important part of the wider cooperative movement and that it is vital for future researchers that primary documentation survives.

We have been working in recent months on detailed proposals for the project, for which we hope funding will be available.  We think we have strong bid, and a strong chance of success. There’s details about the Workers’ Cooperatives Archives Project up on the dedicated website workerscoopsarchive.wordpress.com. I hope you support this initiative.

International Day of Cooperatives

Tomorrow is the first Saturday in July and therefore – as determined by the United Nations – the International Day of Cooperatives.

I’ll be involved locally, and as I am lucky to live in a town with a rich cooperative history I’ll be at events to commemorate that heritage, including a cooperative history guided walk.  But I’ll also be at an event at lunchtime which is looking forward, not back. Today’s cooperatives – and we have plenty of active cooperatives in our neighbourhood – will be coming together to share their news, to network, and to work out how we can strengthen further the cooperative sector locally.

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I wish you a stimulating and enjoyable International Day of Cooperatives as well.

Past and present

It’s always a treat to visit the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, the quite remarkable collection of books and material from progressive movements of all kinds in Britain and beyond which was the life’s work of Eddie and Ruth Frow, and there was a particular pleasure in being there on Saturday for an informal gathering of cooperative historians, facilitated by the UK Society for Co-operative Studies. Useful discussions, and a chance to catch up on what other research initiatives other people are engaged in at present.

And as it happened the day before I was at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum, in Toad Lane, Rochdale, also talking cooperative history. The museum will be hosting a small exhibition of the story of the Hebden Bridge textile mill run successfully by its workers in the nineteenth century, as a tie-in to my forthcoming book on the subject All Our Own Work. If you want a sneak preview you’ll find a short graphics-led account of this story which I have produced already available online on the Co-operative Heritage Trust’s website.

Clearing away the undergrowth: rediscovering coop history

I’m feeling a natural sense of relief here as the manuscript for my forthcoming book All Our Own Work heads off to the publishers, Merlin Press. The book tells the history of one of Britain’s earliest and, at that time, best known productive cooperatives (what we today would call workers’ cooperatives).  This was the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Co-operative society, which operated successfully from 1870 to 1918.

My account explores how the workers who were motivated to run their own textile mill coped with the challenges of managing the business, among these the task of finding the necessary capital. There was also the vexed question of deciding how to share the profits: how much should go to the workers, how much to the investors, and how much to the cooperative societies who were the customers.

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I’m naturally keen to get the story of this cooperative as widely known as possible, so it’s good to see a related news piece up on the Co-operative News website. The story describes how the graves of Joseph Greenwood and Jesse Gray, two of the leading figures in the Fustian society’s history, have recently been cleared of undergrowth and made much more accessible to visitors.  The Co-op News can be found here.