Tag Archives: Manchester

In praise of people’s history

30 Oct

Co-operators gathered at the People’s History Museum to get to know each other, visit the exhibits and hear speeches by Co-ops UK’s Ed Mayo and the ICA’s Dame Pauline Green.

Back home in Canada, there has been some controversy about the federal government’s recent decision to rename the Canadian Museum of Civilization the Canadian Museum of History.  There are some who fear a purely historical museum would forego the anthropological focus that has made the museum so popular; others are concerned that it will focus on wars, industry and big-P politics: areas that have historically been the preserve of men and the ruling classes.

But what it it were to become a museum of people’s history: one that focuses on things like the women’s suffrage movement,  the fight for a minimum wage,  and the joining of people together to form co-operatives?

Sound farfetched?  Not in Manchester, home to the People’s History Museum and the site of tonight’s Co-operatives United welcome reception.

It was an appropriate venue in a city that has been pivotal to so many social movements over the years.  The museum’s political perspective was clearly somewhere on the left (the museum cafe even calls itself “The Left Bank”), and many of the exhibits focused on the labour movement. As one UK co-operator told me, “That’s Manchester. You probably wouldn’t have this in London.”

But not all the exhibits were political.  In the cloakroom area, there was a collection of historical artifacts from everyday life: 45 r.p.m records; shoes; handbags; and just outside it a display of old record covers from the likes of Nat King Cole and The Platters.  That too, is people’s history, and it was good to see it acknowledged as such.

A typical display panel at the People’s History Museum

A number of the museum exhibits focused on women’s battle for the right to vote

As Canadian co-operators, we often complain that co-ops aren’t taught in either our business schools or our history classes. As my colleague Tanya Gracie commented during the reception, perhaps the new Museum of History will provide an opportunity to make the case to give co-operative history the visibility it deserves.  If it can happen in Manchester…not to mention Rochdale…why not in Canada?

A list of museum funders, including The Co-operative Group, several government departments, Manchester City Council and the Heritage Lottery Trust

–Donna Balkan

First stop…the Co-op

28 Oct

Your intrepid blogger (in the raincoat, of course) visits The Co-op

It’s a typical rainy Sunday  in Manchester, but that didn’t deter me from doing a little exploring before all the action begins later in the week. Armed with a map, I headed toward the main shopping area in the city’s downtown; I had walked for about 10 minutes when I suddenly noticed a familiar sign: The Co-operative. My heart skipped a beat as I found myself face to face with a UK  institution that I had written about on numerous occasions, but had never seen in person.

The Co-operative Group – or just “the Co-op” as people call it in the UK — is a remarkable organization with a fascinating history. It’s story goes all the way back to 1863, when the North of England Co-operative Society was launched by some 300 co-ops in Yorkshire and Lancashire. By 1872, it had become known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society, and in subsequent years, a wide range of other co-op organizations merged with it to create The Co-operative Group we know today.

By the 1990s, the Co-operative Group was facing hard times; it had lost much of its market share  and consumer perception was that it was dowdy and old-fashioned. In 2006, it embarked on a rebranding campaign that created a modern and unified brand image for all parts of the Co-operative Group, including food stores, travel services, pharmacies, funeral services and the Co-operative Bank.  The rebranding campaign – and a series of mergers with other UK co-operative organizations — turned The Co-operative around.  Today it has over six million members, more than120,000 employees and is the UK’s fifth largest food retailer.

I was greeted at the Co-op by a lovely woman  who was very friendly, and even friendlier when I told her who I was and what I was doing in Manchester. In fact, she is one of the legion of co-op volunteers who is helping with the set-up for Co-operatives United, and brochures for Co-operatives United were prominently displayed in the store. “Do you have one of these?” she said, holding up a brochure.

The store itself was very attractive, with a wide variety of products and eye-catching displays. A prominent sign at the cash said “You can now find one of our stores in every UK postal area,” and bore the tagline “good with food”.   It was a wonderful start to a great day in Manchester.

— Donna Balkan

What is Co-operatives United…and why are we going there?

23 Oct

Co-operatives United.

Yes, it’s in Manchester and no, it’s not a football (soccer) team.  Still, you can’t help having a sneaking suspicion that the prowess and popularity of Manchester United may have something to do with the naming of this event.

To call it a “conference” probably wouldn’t do it justice – it’s a great deal more than that.  Its website refers to it as a World Festival, which might be a little closer to what is awaiting us in Manchester.

Whatever you call it, Co-operatives United will bring as many as 10,000 co-operators from across the UK and around the world to a city which figures prominently in the history of the global co-operative movement. Robert Owen, who is considered one of the movement’s founding fathers, came to Manchester from Wales in 1787 and remained there for 12 years, working in the textile industry and participating in the prestigious Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society.

And it’s no coincidence that Manchester is just a stone’s throw (13 km to be exact) from Rochdale, home of one of the world’s first co-operatives and birthplace of the Co-operative Principles.

So we can’t think of a better location for the global co-operative movement’s culminating event of the International Year of Co-operatives. Here are some of the things that will be taking place at  between October 29 and November 2:

  • ICA Expo 2012, which will showcase co-ops and their products and services from around the world.
  • A co-operative “street gallery“, charting the formation and reach of the global co-op movement.
  • Screenings of films on co-ops, including the premiere of the new feature film The Rochdale Pioneers.
  • A special session of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) General Assembly, including a discussion and decision on ICA’s Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade.
  • A Co-operative Congress, with presentations and discussions on “Growing the co-operative economy”.
  • A co-operative Gender Forum, to discuss the participation of women in the co-operative movement.
  • A co-op practitioners’ forum, which will include a plenary session and separate forums on accountancy, corporate administration, human resources and communications.
  • A conference on co-operatives and Fair Trade.
  • The re-launch of the Rochdale Pioneers Museum, as well as ongoing tours to Rochdale, The Co-operative Group’s new headquarters and local co-ops.

Follow Tanya Gracie and me on this blog as we chronicle our latest adventure in co-operation. On to Manchester!

— Donna Balkan