2014-01-15 Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre

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Principle 5 Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre

YCRC is a multi-stakeholder co-operative for the purpose of co-operative education. It is based at Aizlewood’s Mill, Sheffield – a co-operatively owned building and home of the Sheffield Co-operative Development Group.

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society marked the beginning of success for the co-operative movement. Until then, the aspiration of building a co-operative commonwealth to give people an alternative to private enterprise and capitalism had met with disappointment and failure. Over 300 co-operative societies had been started and failed.

That the co-operative idea’s caught on in the first place is largely due to Robert Owen and Dr. William King. William King produced a newspaper called The Co-operator from 1828-1830. This proved to be an inspiration and guide to the early pioneers of co-operation. Co-operative newspapers and publications have held the Movement together ever since, keeping the membership informed and aware and involved.

What marked the turning point in the fortunes of the Movement was the recognition of the importance of Education by the Rochdale Pioneers. The very nature and culture of the Rochdale Society was to help and support and give advise to others who were starting co-operative societies. From being relatively isolated projects, co-operatives were becoming a Movement.

Education was written into the values and principles of the Rochdale Society and this became accepted by all co-operative societies. Famously, the upstairs room of the store on Toad Lane, Rochdale housed the reading room and library for the members. This enabled the members to read the co-operative press and general newspapers at a time when many could not get access to newspapers. Classes in literacy and numeracy and co-operative education were held there, thus equipping the members to take an active part in running the Society, and taking part in the democracy and governance. When a local Friendly Society was disbanded, the Pioneers Society bought its library. So the upper room had a members lending library as well. These were times when local authorities did not provide education and libraries. Every store that the Society opened had a reading and education room above the shop. Talks and lectures and lantern slides were organised. This became the pattern for all the other co-operative societies as well. Until comparatively recently most co-op shops had a room upstairs for the members to use. As time went by, the CWS commissioned co-operative films to be made for screening at co-operative events. Many of these films have survived and are kept for future generations in the National Co-operative Film Archive*.

For the Co-operative Movement to be successful there needs to be a co-operative culture, there needs to be awareness amongst the membership, how can its significance be realised without this?

The co-operative reading rooms and libraries helped to build this Movement, but times changed. Local authorities provided libraries and schools and further education. The market changed with highly competitive supermarkets competing with the co-op, and the significance of the co-op was lost to popular culture.

Today, the co-operative movement has a difficulty in articulating its significance to the general public. The educational wing of the Movement is established in the Co-operative College which is an excellent institution, but it does not touch the ordinary co-op member.

The Co-operative Group organises members events, but these are isolated events and not a permanent part of the co-operative community.

Perhaps the Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre can start to address some of these concerns. The influence of local authorities in education and library provision is in retreat. This is symptomatic of Society as a whole devaluing education and encouraging people to live in a fantasy world of the quick buck by a win on the lottery, money being the only thing that matters and as much reality as a Walt Disney cartoon.

The Co-operative Movement has been served well by the Co-operative News published since 1871. Co-operative Press which publishes the Co-operative News is a readers co-operative.

Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre

This collection of co-operative educational and research resources began with a realisation of the immense value of back editions of The Co-operative News. I have been saving Co-operative News since around 2001and from 2003 onwards the collection is complete. As Co-operative News reported weekly and now fortnightly on the whole Co-operative Movement with editorial independence, this collection represents a comprehensive picture of the unfolding events of the Movement. The first purpose of the resource centre therefore is to make the Co-operative News collection available to co-operative researchers and to keep current editions available for reading.

In keeping with the co-operative principle of Openness and providing information, reports of co-operative societies, and in particular the Co-operative Group are available in the centre, both current and historic.

The Co-operative Group, Co-operatives UK and other societies publish many pamphlets, these are always available to visitors to the Centre.

The Centre has back editions of the Journal of Co-operative Studies (UKSCS).

The Co-operative Review, Co-operative Gazette and The Millgate Monthly and a good deal of additional archive material will also be of interest to co-operative historians. This collection supplements the historic co-operative material in the Sheffield City Libraries Local Studies and Archives. The Centre aims to build up a relationship with Sheffield City Libraries and The National Co-operative Archive.

This is a resource for co-operators in all parts of the Movement and has information about the day to day activities of the Co-op Movement in the City and the Region.

The lending library will be of particular interest. It started with around 25 of my own books. But to this has been added the generous gift of the libraries of the old co-operative societies in the East of England. This collection in addition to the books includes a good deal of archive material. The collection was given to the Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre by the East of England Co-operative Society.

The purpose of this Centre is to give access to co-operators and anyone interested in co-operatives to co-operative heritage, culture and information.

It is a learning and information resource for all co-operatives.

From this starting point it is hoped that through co-operative collaboration the collection of materials will be added to and refined.

Most visitors will know roughly what they want to research before arrival. But many will like to come and browse the material. It is a comfortable and friendly place situated in a co-operatively owned building.

Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre

To provide an accessible co-operative learning resource for all co-operators

  1. Lending Library.
  2. Information and learning resources are being catalogued. This material comes from a wide variety of co-operative sources. This is a starting point for the building of the co-operative resource. Back issues of Co-operative News are being sorted and catalogued as is archival and historic material in the collection.
  3. Proposed link with other archives and libraries. In particular, Sheffield Central Library Local Studies and Sheffield Archives* Also National Co-operative Archive, and collections in the Region.
  4. Proposed link with Sheffield Co-op’s, The Co-operative Party and member organisations of Co-operatives Yorkshire & Humber.
  5. Talks and classes on co-operative subjects, film screenings and a study Group. If larger meetings are required, one of the larger rooms will have to be booked.
  6. Proposed link with educational establishments and co-operative development bodies.

Note on Sheffield Local Studies and Sheffield Archives

The Sheffield Co-operator

  • Published by The Sheffield Co-operative Party
  • Monthly
  • Guaranteed Circulation 30,000 copies
  • Broadsheet Newspaper
  • Printed by the National Co-operative Publishing Society

Sheffield Local Studies Library on Surrey Street has every edition of this newspaper between 1922 and 1939 bound in volumes.

From 1939 the publication was reduced to a newsletter. These newsletters are also safely kept by the Local Studies Library.

The Sheffield Co-operator is a wonderful source of co-operative and political news in pre Second World War days.

The adverts from Co-operative Societies and notices from Co-operative organisations give a fascinating glimpse of life in that era. These carefully bound volumes of The Sheffield Co-operator are priceless to those in the Movement who would seek to understand the Co-operative Movement and politics in Sheffield and Nationally during that period.

Sheffield Archives

Sheffield Archives have 95 boxes of Brightside & Carbrook/Sheffield Co-operative Society archives. They are unsorted and came to Sheffield via The National Co-operative Archive after the merger of Sheffield Co-operative Society and United with The Co-operative Group.

There is a substantial co-operative body of material in the Sheffield Libraries.

The Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre will achieve its purpose more successfully by building up relationships with other bodies whose aims are also for learning and co-operation.

Principle 5 Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre
Aizlewood’s Mill
Nursery Street
Sheffield S3 8GG
Contact Steve Thompson
Tel: 0114 2589412
Steve Thompson
15th December 2013