Tag Archives: Gillian Lonergan

What does Toad Lane mean to you?

30 Oct

Yesterday, I had the amazing experience of visiting Rochdale and the Rochdale Pioneer’s Museum, a location that co-operators throughout the world know of and view as a centre for the beginning of co-operation as we know it today.

Many know the story and have seen the famous photograph of thirteen of the original members, and we have seen the original shop space at 31 Toad Lane, all of which are inspiring and even more so once you see and are able to stand in the doorway of the very place where it all began but last night I heard the a less well known story, the story of the first female member of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society-Eliza Brierley. Eliza joined the co-operative just 15 months after it opened in March 1846. Her name is in the minute book along with the record of her membership payment. She paid a full 1 pound, which was rare at the time as this was a couple of weeks salary and therefore members would pay a few pence at a time until their complete membership could be paid off. There are no other records about how she continued to be involved in the co-operative or what other contributions she made to the Rochdale community. As Gillian Lonergan, head of heritage resources for the Co-operative Trust was telling me, there may have been other female members in these early days, there were certainly no restrictions against female membership within the Society, but the reality of the times, money was often controlled by the male in the household. Memberships to the Rochdale Society in these early years were most often taken by the male on behalf of the family versus each individual and therefore it is only the name of the male that is listed in the membership roster.

So last night almost exactly 168 years after the pioneers first opened their Rochdale co-operative, as we gathered for remarks everyone was handed a postcard size note with the question on it “What does Toad Lane mean to you?”. Visitors to the Museum have the opportunity to leave their thoughts on this card or on a very cool video message recorder on the second floor.

So let me share what Toad Lane means to me… Toad Lane is a place of inspiration, a place and a symbol of what people can do when they come together, and I would like to think that the motivation within the original pioneers and within Eliza Brierley continue to be relevant motivations that drive co-operators like myself and co-operators throughout the world. The formation of the Rochdale Equitable Pionner society gave voice to ordinary working individuals in Rochdale and this has grown into 1 billion people-co-operative members- around the world having a voice and a way to contribute to the betterment of their lives through social and economic participation. Toad Lane is a symbol of what can happen when dreams are translated into action.

-Tanya Gracie

A pilgrimage to Rochdale

29 Oct

Jonny Priestley, Jenny Broadbent and Gillian Lonergan of the Co-operative Heritage Trust stand outside the newly-refurbished Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum

The dictionary definition of a pilgrimage is “a journey to a sacred place or shrine”.  Ask most co-operators what that means to them, and the answer would invariably be Rochdale.  It wasn’t the home of the world’s first co-op (a weavers’ co-op in Fenwick, Scotland seems to be the top contender for that honour), but it is usually  recognized as the place where the British co-operative movement began.  Most importantly, it was the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers who drew up the Co-operative Principles upon which today’s co-op principles are based.  And as a result, this town a stone’s throw from Manchester is indeed a sacred place.

In 1844, the Rochdale Pioneers rented a warehouse at 31 Toad Lane for £10 per year. Their store, which opened for business on December 21 of that year sold four key items: butter, sugar, flour and oatmeal.  They eventually expanded their line of goods and in 1867, moved to larger quarters.  But Toad Lane has always had a special significance for British co-operators; the building was bought by the co-operative movement in 1925 and run as a museum since 1931.

In August 2010, the museum was closed for renovations, and today, more than two years later, it held its official re-opening. Now owned by the Co-operative Heritage Trust and managed by the Co-operative College,  the museum includes not only a reproduction of the original ground-floor store, but also a plethora of displays, exhibit spaces and a “learning loft” for co-op education.  The renovation was made possible by, among other donations, a £1.5 million contribution from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which uses part of the proceeds from lottery ticket sales to support heritage-related projects.

“Since the college took over, we’ve been moving from just making sure things are preserved to looking at how we move forward – how we use the collection to inspire people,” said Gillian Lonergan, head of heritage resources for the Co-operative Trust. “We don’t want people to just look at history — we want people to come here and know that it’s part of  a living, breathing, worldwide movement.”

The re-launched museum certainly accomplishes that goal.  The historical exhibits are still there, but so are panels about the co-operative movement today.  And it was clear that the dozens of co-operators from around the world who attended today’s official opening were pleased with what they saw.

To find out more about the Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum, visit their website at www.rochdalepioneersmuseum.coop.

— Donna Balkan