Meet the Pioneers, a new resource for schools is shining a light on the lives of the Rochdale Pioneers, ordinary working people who got together to improve their lives by setting up a co-operative grocery store. Their shop, on Toad Lane, Rochdale, in North West England, is now widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern co-operative movement, which today has over 1 billion members. Today, Rochdale has a co-operative council, as well as the UK’s biggest housing co-operative, and in 2011 was designated world co-operative capital.
The Meet the Pioneers resource was produced by the Co-operative College using material from the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester and the Rochdale Pioneers Museum in Toad Lane, which is housed in the building where the Pioneers set up their original shop. Gillian Lonergan, Head of Heritage Resources at the Co-operative College, said: “If you talk to people across the world they know the name of Rochdale. It is synonymous with co-operatives”.
Claire Butler, General Manager of inspiredspaces Rochdale, thinks the Pioneers are still highly influential. She said: “Co-operatives are inspiring and surprising. Co-operatives are vibrant and flourishing in more than 100 countries and all that started in a little shop just across the way. With co-operatives, it isn’t just about looking backwards. All the values are relevant today”.
The Meet the Pioneers pack introduces the people behind the famous story of the Rochdale Pioneers, exploring what they were like as individuals. As well as telling their extraordinary tale, it shows how all different types of people, of all different ages, with different interests, occupations and personalities, came together to form the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, from James Smithies the joke teller to William Cooper the avid letter writer.
The story of the Rochdale Pioneers is contextualised with background information about life in the nineteenth century, from housing and living conditions to education, food and political movements. A range of activities suitable for different ages explore topics such as life expectancy, working conditions, participatory democracy and the fight for good quality, honest food. The resource ties into different subject areas, including history, citizenship and art and design.
The work of the Rochdale Pioneers continues to resonate. The rules set out by the Pioneers society form the basis of the co-operative values and principles which are still followed by co-operatives across the world today, and it is hoped that Meet the Pioneers will inspire the next generation of co-operators. Gillian said: ”It’s amazing today when you work with young people. The co-operative values make sense to them”.
The story of co-operation did not stop with the Rochdale Pioneers, and Meet the Pioneers brings the tale up to date through a range of case studies about co-operatives operating in all sectors of the economy across the world today, from snake catching to architecture. It also looks at how the legacy of the Rochdale Pioneers is carried on by initiatives such as Fairtrade.