A permanent paid secretary is highly desirable

Gillian, who handles the archives for the Co-operative College has shared with me a handwritten minute, dating back to 1872, when my post was first created.

The minute of the meeting held in Balloon Street, Manchester (just round the corner) reads that the provincial section of the Co-op Congress Board “resolved that in the opinion of this committee a permanent paid Secretary is highly desirable.”

The role included action to “assist the Board in digesting and organising all measures adopted to procure unity among co-operatives…to advocate the claim of all thoroughly co-operative associations… assist new societies in their formation… watch the press in its criticisms, friendly and unfriendly, and use it to our advantage … act as a recognised missionary and lecturer of the movement under direction of the Board.”

What a role they created… and, 140 years on, a good job, certainly for me, that they did.


I have just been to a remarkable talk in Slaithwaite, hosted by the local Transition Town, by Nicole Foss from Ontario, who runs a blog called the Automatic Earth.

The evening started, within my first hour in town, nestled in the Dales, with a dispute between two local people (one a lifer, the other was the Chair, Jon Walker, having lived there for only 25 years) about how you pronounce Slaithwaite. (Clue: whatever the right answer may be, it is certainly nothing all that much like Slaithwaite…)

Nicole Foss looked at the constraints we face in terms of energy and in terms of finance, and how two crashes, of production and of economic demand, may now accelerate and interact. I have rarely heard a bleaker outlook, but she took us through with charm and insight into imagining how one could act ‘after the crash’, in Guy Dauncey’s phrase. Get into community, build practical skills, avoid debt is what I took away.

And a desire to come back soon.

Riot writing

There has been an excellent to and fro on the August riots among the academic sociology community. This piece by Abby Day is short and sweet – it is not that young people can’t respect authority nowadays, it is just that they respect authority that deserves their respect.

Community spirit

The Star Inn, one of the pioneering co-operative pubs that we have supported, is holding a Beer Festival this afternoon – one sign of the progress they have made. The pub stocks local ale and will host eleven guest ales. Over a year on from being threatened with closure, as the local paper reports, the community seems in fine fettle.

The BBC programme Village SOS is turning these kind of inspiring stories into documentaries – and there is help on offer through the Lottery for others who want to follow suit.

150 today

The Lincolnshire Co-operative Society is 150 today. Happy Birthday!

If I take a Lincoln metaphor, having gone up the hill on my last visit, I think in some ways our involvement in the co-operative movement is like building a cathedral.

We do what we can, with practical craft and care. And we believe that we are, in the words of the United Nations next year, building a better world. It takes time and what we are doing is both daily co-operation and something that is the span of more than any one of our lives.

And if so, it is important to celebrate along the way.

Please wish all involved the best of celebrations for the best of causes.


Wigan, heart and home

Mike Riddell is one of those precious people who can turn words and ideas into action. For years, people have talked about the decline of the high street, dabbled with ‘buy local’ and ‘loyalty’ schemes and scrabbled around with possible local currencies. I have to confess to a butterfly involvement with each of these. Mike is working to turn these into reality, by creating a technology platform for sharing across local shops and local citizens – nothing too new in terms of technology, but stuff that is usually kept within a single company and the relationship it has with its customers.

The initiative is developing in Wigan – recently characterised by CACI as one of the most vulnerable towns to retail loss / what we used to call ghost town status. What is up and running so far is called Hometown Plus – and the idea, in partnership with a farsighted local authority, is now looking at further models of smart living … Wigan_plus_document1[6] … and smart sharing.

I was able a few weeks back to introduce Mike to Mary Portas in Birmingham, at our inspiring Co-operative Congress. Mary is leading a review for government on the future of the high street.

Look to Wigan.


Here is a wonderful creative initiative under development, for a worker co-operative version of the ultimate winner-takes-all board game, Monopoly.

Of weeping

I have declared a love before for Nordic jazz and I have played more than once Ketil Bjornstad’s ‘Validation: Of Weeping’ over recent days.

This morning, I had a welcome message from my counterpart in Norway, addressed to co-operators in the UK, which I have pleasure in copying here:

“Dear friends,

Thank you ever so much to you and to the Co-operatives UK for your kind concern and warm greetings after the tragedy that hit us so brutally 22 July. It is still almost unbelievable, in fact even more now when we see the photos of all the 77 victims and learn to know more about each and every individual. Our thoughts go of course to the families of the victims, but also to those who survived the tragedy and have been in the middle of a nightmare that probably none of us is able to imagine.

Norway is a small country, and I think that many of us know, directly or indirectly, at least one family that has been hit by the tragedy.

However, it is good to see that Norway has been able to unite and to co-operate across i. a. all political and religious opinions these days in a sense of “united we stand”. This feeling, and an ocean of roses, are at least two small tributes to all the innocent and defenseless victims that so meaninglessly were taken away from us.

Your message of solidarity has been forwarded to all our member organizations, and once again, thank you for your concern and kind words!

Yours sincerely
Coop Norge SA

Odd Rune Andersen

As the days pass, there is another album that I will turn to – Jan Garbarek’s ‘In Praise of Dreams’.